Laughing Through the Tears

Hank Mattimore
Reproduced with Permission

As a group facilitator for caregivers of people living with Alzheimer's disease, we struggled through some very intense moments at our weekly meetings together. As each person related her personal story, the atmosphere of sadness was palpable. It may sound odd to say this but the saving grace for our group was those moments of humor that cut through the shared sorrow.

This particular afternoon group had been especially painful. One woman grieved over the seeming injustice of life. He husband had been a brilliant physicist and now…didn't even know how to get dressed. Another member was sick with worry when her mom somehow wandered away from home and was lost for hours. Other poignant stories were told. Frankly, it was an emotionally exhausting session.

Last to share her story was "Evelyn," whose husband was stricken with the disease fairly early in life. She began sort of hesitantly, looking as though her experience was not appropriate to share. "My problem, I guess is unusual," she spoke nervously. "This is about our sexual relations. Is it okay to talk about it?" I assured her that what is said here, stays here." Then I added, "As long as the issue is related to your husbands struggle with Alzheimer's disease and you are comfortable with it, go ahead."

"Well my husband has always had a strong sex drive. He had it when he was healthy and he has it now." She paused. "The problem is that now his short term memory is gone." One of the group interrupted Evelyn. "So how does his loss of memory affect him? Like he has forgotten how to have sex?"

"Good grief, no," exclaimed Evelyn. "The problem is that we will have sex in the morning and by lunch time he forgets that we had sex. He will approach me longingly and say "Honey, c'mon we haven't had sex for days. He is insatiable."

For what seemed like an eternity, there was silence in the group. I was trying to think of something appropriate to say, but for the life of me, I was speechless. Evelyn blushed. "I shouldn't have brought it up," she apologized. Then from the other side of the room, I heard a suppressed laugh. Evelyn, at first looked askance at the offender. Then someone else tittered. Evelyn herself started to laugh.

Before you know it, our professional group lost all restraint. We broke helplessly into unrestrained laughter. I tried to regain control, "Oh, Evylyn I'm sorry, that must be….."Wonderful?" interrupted one woman. Another said, "I wish my George had that problem." Other semi-ribald remarks followed, with Evelyn, by this time, bent over with laughter.

I don't remember if we ever solved Evelyn's problem for her that night but I do know that the cloud of depression that had hung over us was gone. Despite our pain, we found we could laugh at ourselves. The laughter had broken through our despair. The box of Kleenex was passed around but the towels were used not to dry our tears of sorrow but the tears of laughter.