COPYRIGHT 2020 DEBRA LITTLEJOHN SHINDER
No, Virginia (or should it be “no, Karen” these days?), posting a joke about Covid doesn’t make a person a cold, callused, evil son-of-a-witch who doesn’t care about your friend who died with the disease — just as Fred Sanford’s chest-clutching fake heart attack jokes didn’t mean Redd Foxx was a wicked sociopath who was making fun of my daddy’s death from myocardial infarction.
Laughing in the face of tragedy is a well known and widely used coping mechanism. It’s especially common amongst those who must regularly deal with the darker side of life: cops, doctors, nurses, EMTs and firefighters and others whose work exposes them to death, disease, disaster, pain and human suffering.
An ability to laugh at rough moments can reduce the negative emotions surrounding a stressful event and also create the positive feelings associated with amusement in general. Put together, those two affective swings can enhance a person’s coping powers.
“To the extent you can use humor to change your perspective on things, to see something that is potentially threatening as less threatening, then that allows you to be more efficient in your coping.”https://www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/awfully-funny
My mom passed away several years ago, with lung cancer. Her last year was difficult, but she never lost her ability to joke about her condition. I remember her half-seriously lamenting the fact that she’d given up smoking a couple of years before (except for occasionally sneaking one in the bathroom when she thought nobody knew) and saying her diagnosis was a relief because she could go back to chain smoking now (she didn’t).
The night she died, we knew the end was near and I, my daughter, and my son and one of his friends were at her house and taking turns staying up with her. She passed away in the wee hours of the morning and I called one of the hospice workers and my aunt. Both came over to be with us and after the funeral home personnel came and took her body, after we’d all had a good cry together, I got out mom’s big box of photographs and we went through them, passing them around and telling the stories that went with the pictures.
We were all laughing at one of those memories when mom’s neighbor came to the door, knocked once and walked on in, as she’d been doing since Mom got too sick to get up and answer the door. I’ll never forget the shocked look on her face as her eyes went from the empty hospital bed that was set up in the living room to all of us, sitting there laughing. It was one of the most awkward moments of my life, and although we quickly explained what we’d been cracking up about, I felt the judgment in her stare. How dare we appear to be enjoying ourselves when Mom had just died?
I guess some people just aren’t wired to understand, but I knew my mom and I know she would be the first to tell us to recall the good times, the fun times, the funny times, and have a laugh instead of drowning in tears. I had been with her on the occasions of enough other loved ones’ deaths to know that she would do — had done — the same.
There are a ton of jokes about Covid-19 going around on social media right now. And there are a lot of people castigating those who post them and even unfriending those who, via emoji, laugh at them. Are some in poor taste? Yes. Will some be offensive to people who have lost friends and loved ones to the disease? Certainly. Does that mean the people posting them are malevolent and uncaring. No. It means their way of dealing with the major upheaval to all our lives that has come along with this pandemic (and we’ll leave the whys of that to another discussion at another time) is different from yours. And that’s all it means.
There are mean and evil and unkind people in this world, but most people are not that way. Most people are just trying to get through this the best way they can. If you thought enough of them to make them your Facebook “friends,” then maybe you should give them the benefit of the doubt — or else unfriend them.
And on the other side of that equation, if friends you otherwise get along with and care about take umbrage at the funny Covid meme you posted, cut them some slack. Maybe they’re grieving a loss. Maybe they’re terrified for loved ones who have the disease. Maybe they’ve just been diagnosed themselves.
Laughter is frequently the best medicine, but like all medicines, sometimes some people have adverse reactions if the dosage or the timing isn’t right.
Fact is, there are a lot of people who just can’t see the humor in anything right now, especially when it comes to the pandemic. Earlier this year, some governments even passed laws and threatened jail time for anyone who made April Fools Day jokes about Covid-19.
Covid or not, humor is a very subjective thing. What one person finds hilarious, another may think is just dumb and yet another may find incredibly disrespectful and distasteful. I’ve had the experience of seeing another person walk out of a comedy show in disgust while I laughed, and I’ve also been the one leaving as people around me cackled uproariously.
A shared sense of humor can serve as a powerful bond between two people. I treasure those people in my life who always “get” my witticisms and whose repartee always makes me laugh.
Some even say a shared sense of humor is the key to a good relationship. I wouldn’t go that far. My husband and I find some of the same things funny, but often he dissolves in laughter at jokes that leave me thinking “meh,” and some of the subtle bantering style humor in which I revel doesn’t seem to touch him at all.
But that’s okay. Each of us has many friends with whom we can share those laughs that go over the other’s head. And at the end of the day, as long as I can cry on his shoulder when I need to, as long as he’s there for me when I’m afraid or down in the dumps, as long as we hold the same basic life values and he cares about my kids and the animals I love, he doesn’t have to laugh at all of my jokes. There are other people who’ll do that. He might not always make me laugh, but he knows how to make me smile.
Luckily, some scientific studies agree with me. According to Psychology Today:
For long-term relationships, such as in marriages, couples generally share a similar sense of humor — although similarities in sense of humor are not associated with greater marital satisfaction, nor with longer marriages.https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/humor-sapiens/201811/how-humor-can-change-your-relationship
I think some of the animosity over current Covid jokes stems from not understanding the distinction between laughing with, at, or about someone or something. I laughed with my mom, about her cancer — never at her or it.
It’s when people think you’re making jokes aimed at the people who have Covid that they get upset. Let them know that’s not the case, that you can take seriously the plight of the folks suffering from serious symptoms while still still having a chuckle at the expense of all the “experts” who have been frantically flip-flopping and skewing the numbers and making this whole thing so much worse than it had to be.
Because let’s face it, those are the targets of the jokes, not the Covid victims. And perhaps we’re using that humor to deflect the extreme anger over this that would otherwise be at the forefront of our emotions. Cracking jokes about the inefficacy of the medical advisors’ protocols helps us not to dwell on the horrific impact that incompetency has had on so many lives.
Sometimes we laugh to keep from crying. And sometimes we do both.