Laughter after a traumatic experience is often filled with mixed emotions. Usually the laughter is unexpected, spontaneous, and often, in the midst of it, you catch yourself. The grieving you pauses mid-laugh and feels guilt, uncertainty. To laugh seems so foreign after all the tears you’ve shed.
Several years ago, my husband and I were in a near fatal motorcycle accident. In an instant our life turned upside down. After months in the hospital, we were finally home sitting in the living room with our two boys watching TV. Aside from my broken body and the fact that I was sitting in a hospital bed, life seemed somewhat “normal” again.
I can still vividly recall that evening. We were having dinner together and watching “America’s Funniest Videos.” Laughter sprinkled through the room and it was contagious. Instantly my eyes filled with tears, looking over at my boys and thanking God for this moment. I was so grateful that we’d survived the crash and that we were with them for such a simple evening.
My Mom, who had temporarily moved in with us for the healing process, commented from the kitchen, “It is so good to hear you all laughing again.”
And it was.
In fact, I can’t watch AFV to this day without thinking of that moment.
“Nothing is more beautiful than a smile that has struggled through tears.”
It’s somewhat different when laughter comes after losing a child.
I remember chuckling at a story someone was sharing about Austin during that first week. Swarms of people were in and out of our house to visit after the loss. For a lot of it, I was on auto-pilot and don’t really recall much of those days. But I can still see myself sitting on that old green love seat, where I’d often plant my body to hide the torn cushion, and feeling almost ashamed when a laugh escaped me.
Gasping softly, it felt so wrong for that sound to have come out of my mouth. I tried to brush it off, reminding myself that Austin would’ve wanted it. He would’ve loved to have been sitting right in the middle of those stories and reminiscing about fun times. But on some level, it didn’t feel like something a grieving mom should do.
After the weeks and months of the deepest emotional pain I’d ever seen my family go through, I wondered if we’d ever feel true happiness again. It seemed each of us were strapped into different roller coasters, never knowing who would be up or down the most. We were rarely ever feeling the same.
I missed happiness. I longed for laughter. I needed joy.
Prayers and prayers and prayers later, we eventually healed enough to share laughter again. I don’t know the first moment exactly, where as a family we laughed together, but I do remember one milestone in our grief journey.
Our first vacation after losing Austin.
Spring Break 2009, not even five months after he’d passed. We wavered so many times at not going anywhere but, on some level, something pushed to us go. Purposefully, we picked a location we’d never been to and one close to home, in case we changed our minds in the midst of it.
Being so worried about us getting through it, I literally made myself ill and we had to stop at every. single. exit. so I could use the restroom. By about the fourth or fifth time, I began feeling guilty, figuring the stops were ruining our trip but the guys began to laugh. Then I did too. Pretty soon we were making potty jokes at every road sign and my youngest was eager to count how many toilets we’d see in one day. We were all three sitting in the truck rolling in laughter about explosive intestinal issues.
As if on cue, Austin started sending us his own signs, with “23 miles to next rest area” or yellow butterflies dancing in our parking spot at the gas station. I’m sure it was his way of letting us know he was there and we had no doubt he was laughing with us (and at me) from above.
To cap it off, after we checked into our cabin we were tickled to find that our master bathroom was decorated to look like an outhouse!
If you’re in a place right now where you feel like joy may never again come, just remember laughter may find you in the most unexpected places.
In 2008, my world as I knew it changed forever, with the sudden loss of our 14-year-old son, Austin. The journey to my blog (and attitude toward life) was bumpy and tearful, beginning at a memorial blog for my son. I later chose to take another path, challenging myself to find the JOY in every day, despite the sadness I still felt. I love and miss him daily but I’m living my life to honor him – and celebrating every moment it brings. My goal…to find and share the joy in every day. You can find me at Joyful Challenge