How exactly can you return to laughter after losing a dear friend? When it feels like there is no joy left in the world?
I left the hospital in the middle of the night, still feeling my friend´s hand in mine. His battle with lung cancer had lasted for over a year and in the end I was the only one who had been there for him. I had been there to support him when the doctor told the lung cancer had spread to his brains. I was the one he had called when he fell off his bed and no longer had any strength to climb back. I was the one who sat by his bedside, when he waited to go. He was in the middle of eating an ice cream when he suddenly got the last seizure. I held his hand when he slipped into a coma - and he would not let go. I knew he could still hear me and talked to him of all the friends and family who were waiting for him on the other side.
"Let go, my friend, let go. I shall always remember you with love. You be there for me, when it is my time to come to the other side, ok?"
At that his breath ended and he quietly slipped from his body into the hands of the angels. I swear I could see a light in the room for a few seconds, and then he was gone.
And now I was walking at the hospital parking lot, all alone. I felt numb.
- Please, wait! someone shouted and I heard running steps.
One of the nurses ran to me, holding a bag.
- He wanted you to have this, she said and gave me the canvas bag. An awkward silence, then:
- I am sorry for your loss.
And she was gone.
I looked into the bag. A big Christmas present was there, clumsily packed. Christmas trees in the wrappings. Golden thread. And an envelope. "To my best friend, Merry Christmas", it said.
It was Christmas Eve. I drove home watching all the lights on the houses, I could see people gathered in living rooms. I had no one.
I realized I had very little to eat. I looked into the refrigerator and took out a pizza and put it in the oven. Then I opened the envelope.
"My dearest friend,
I do not want you to feel sorry because of what I went through. I know I got my cancer because I could not feel any joy anymore. You brought it back to my life, but I was already too tired and ready to move on, so I did not wish to fight anymore. Still you brought smile and joy back to my last times in the physical world, and I wish you to return to laughter too - you have been so sad and serious lately. That is why I thought of this gift to you. One of the nurses kindly agreed to do the necessary shopping for me - she is the one who gave you this bag.
I know you are alone, your family is far away. But joy is everywhere and laughter brings people together. So enjoy my Christmas present to you and know I am there in spirit with you."
I opened the present. Little golden cardboard boxes fell on the table, attached to each other with golden string of pearls - the kind you can decorate your Christmas tree with. 12 boxes, each with a name of a month written on them. A golden card was attached to the first one. "Return to Laughter" it read
And then there was one bigger box with the word "Open on Christmas Eve" written on it. I opened it and took out the most beautiful Christmas angel I could put on top of a Christmas tree. A note was attached to it with a pin.
"This is a family heirloom - a Christmas angel made by my great great grandmother. It ended up in my care, and I have no time to search for any distant family anymore. I want it to go to someone who will appreciate it. So you take it and put it on your tree and each Christmas think of me. I shall be thinking and blessing your kindness from heaven."
Tears welled in my eyes. I had no Christmas tree. I had spent all my time in the hospital, and made no shopping. But I put the angel on my living room table and played Christmas music and ate my pizza. After Christmas I put the beautiful angel carefully into an old suitcase so it would be safe.
Then came New Year. I opened the January box. A little note was there.
"One good laugh a day is good for the soul!"
I understood the meaning of this when I opened my email and a joke was waiting for me there.
"Your friend ordered the daily joke to your email. If you wish to unsubscribe, click on the link. Your friend´s message to you: Please don´t take death so seriously. I´d like to have an epitaph like this on my stone:
(Anna Hopewell's grave in Enosburg Falls, Vermont)
Here lies the body of our Anna
Done to death by a banana
It wasn't the fruit that laid her low
But the skin of the thing that made her go."
Took me a while to clean the laptop screen - I was just having a cup of coffee...
John´s project name made sense. Return to Laughter. For a while I considered opening all the boxes immediately, but decided to do as he wanted. One box from the Return to Laughter -project per month, just as my friend had planned.
On February the first I found a gift card in the box. It was for a course of laughing yoga. It sounded too strange to me. I checked the net for information.
"Laughter Yoga (Hasya Yoga) is a physically oriented technique that uses a blend of playful, empowering and otherwise "tension-releasing" simple laughter exercises. With gentle yoga-breathing and -stretching exercises, rhythmic clapping and chanting of Ho Ho Ha Ha Ha in unison a simulated laughter turns into real laughter." said Wikipedia.
Out of respect to my friend I went. It was strange at first but I have to say it works! I ended up laughing with tears in my eyes. I met nice people there. If anything helps you to return to laughter easily, that would be laughter yoga!
March the 1st brought me a ticket to a circus. "Remember to look at the clowns!" said a note.
I went and felt a bit strange sitting there alone, but then I recognized a lady from the laughter yoga sitting nearby. We waved to each other and immediately I felt better. Then the clowns came and suddenly one of them lifted a sign that said: "Hi Friend! There´s a lot of laughter up here! John" and the clown laughed and danced and the little children in the audience yelled with laughter. That was my friend´s name. John.
On April the 1st I got a map with a big X drawn in a park.
"Wear a red scarf" it said. I decided to walk as it was a beautiful morning.
I went to the spot of the X and much to my surprise there was nothing there. I turned away, disappointed, and then noticed a little sign that was put in the shade of a tree. "Gotcha! It´s April fools´ day, my friend with the red scarf. Now go and have a hot chocolate with whipped cream in some nice cafeteria! And don´t you dare take some low-calorie version."
I laughed and did as I was told. Couldn´t remember the last time I had had a thick hot chocolate with whipped cream.
May the 1st I opened a box again. It was a bigger box than the others and heavy. Out came a funny looking cylinder and batteries. I put in the batteries and when I moved the cylinder, a hilarious giggle came out. A laughter box! I had never had one. I spent the whole day laughing with the laughter box. One of my best gifts ever. With it I can return to laughter every day - it is just impossible to stay gloomy when you listen to that giggle!
June the 1st I got a cruise ticket. A real Caribbean cruise ticket! And the brochure told it was a meeting for laughter yoga enthusiasts. Well - I got a few days off work and went to the cruise.
I laughed heartily every day. On top of the laughter yoga, as it happens, they had a stand-up-comedian competition at the ship. Anyone could attend. Some were good - and some were very good. I made a decision to go out and see these live comedians in my everyday life as well. What an amazing gift they give us - wanting to make us laugh, to feel better! Their whole career is concentrated on helping us return to laughter.
July the 1st the box contained a little notebook and a pen with a little laughing pixie. Tinkerbell, I recognized. "Too often we only concentrate on the negative issues in our lives, thinking that the positive ones just take care of themselves Well - it isn´t so. We need to concentrate on the good things to keep them active in our minds. This notebook will help you. Every day write down something that made you feel good. And if anything made you laugh, always write it down. And when the bad moment hits, read your notebook. really concentrate on the good things there and see the magic work. Your mind can only concentrate on one thing at a time, so when you do this, you bring good emotions back."
So ever since then I kept the little notebook with me and wrote down good things and things that made me laugh. One day the notebook was full and I felt almost proud of myself, when I bought a new one. And John was right - when the bad moment hit, all I needed to do was to open my notebook and good memories came back vividly. The negative issues had no space in my mind anymore.
August box contained a gift card to a pet shop. "Ask for Tom" it said. Now this was unexpected. I did not have a pet. I once had a dog, but that was years and years ago and I never took a new one after he died. Losing my dog had been too heartbreaking. I looked at the card and then made my decision to visit the store. So far John´s boxes had been perfect. He had put so much effort on these gifts, I owed him.
The pet shop looked the way they all do. But I could tell this one was well kept. Everything was spotless and when I walked inside, the young lady inside was just petting a little dog. She stood up and greeted me. My eyes stayed on the little dog. It was a cute little terrier of some sort, with only one foreleg.
- What happened to him? I asked
- He was rescued as a puppy with three other puppies, she said, - They were abandoned in a cardboard box near the bus station. The other three didn´t make it, but he did, even though his foreleg was injured and had to be amputated. He was going to be put down when a man came to his rescue and adopted him. One day he walked in here and brought the dog with him. It was the most amazing thing really...
- What do you mean?
- Well, he said he had been diagnosed with cancer and would probably die. He wanted to give the dog a chance, so he asked if I would take care of it if he paid for his upkeep for a whole year. He said he would send someone for the dog during that year, when he found the right person. He said the person would give me a gift card with the dog´s name written on he back.
I took the card from my pocket.
- Is his name Tom, by any chance?
So there I was, a proud owner of a three-legged dog named Tom. We looked at each other, and then Tom the dog started wagging his tail at me and positively smiled at me. If anything made me return to laughter, it was that furry grin.
I could write a book about the effect this little dog had on my life. The funniest little creature. Everybody loves him, I have learned the names of everyone in my neighborhood thanks to him. Everyone wants to know his story, all the kids want to pet him and I know the local animal shelter has got quite a few donations thanks to Tom.
One of Tom´s best friends is a war veteran who has also lost his leg. They seem to have a special connection and I know if anything ever happened to me, he would be the first one to offer Tom a home.
September the first is my birthday. So I got a Happy Birthday card and a knock on the door. The biggest birthday cake ever. I had to go out for a walk with Tom and invite neighbors over. I would never have done that before, but Tom´s one-month-long presence had done wonders already. All I needed was to walk the street and invite the people that came to meet Tom and they all came.
That afternoon was a real return to laughter. I had not celebrated my birthday in years, but after this wonderful experience I just might start again.
October the 1 st was a stormy day. I opened the box eagerly and gasped. The box was full of money. "I wish you to use this money to donate to causes that bring back the laughter to those who have lost it. I know you could just use it and no one would know, but trust me: giving to others can be the greatest source of joy."
I have to say it took me days to decide how to use the money. I could have used it on the animal shelter that had rescued Tom the dog. But I already knew there were so many new friends, thanks to Tom. So perhaps something else...
And then I knew. Who needed getting back to laughter more than anyone? We all have our own answers to this, but to me that would be children who have lost their laughter.
I remembered where I had seen them. The hospital. I quickly went to my laptop and after a few searches found what I had been looking for.
Ever heard of Patch Adams? Patch Adams? Well if you haven´t, go and search the net. This money, thousands of dollars, went as an anonymous donation to Clown Doctor program. Return to laughter at its best. And oh boy it made me feel good to be able to forward this donation from John to a worthy cause. Knowing this gift would give the most important thing on anyone´s road to recovery. Laughter.
November the 1st I opened the next to last box. It was full of money, again.
"I know you used the money well in October. This time I want you to go and buy something for yourself you really want to buy. Anything that would make you happy, equipment for a hobby perhaps? Was there something you loved doing as a child? Something you might want to start again?"
This time I knew exactly what I wanted. A camera. And buy it I did. I decided I would make an exhibition. The name of the exhibition was not hard to come by. "Return to Laughter". And so I re-started my childhood hobby again. And if I ever had trouble in finding positive things and expressions to photograph, all I needed was to take Tom the dog with me. He made everyone smile, even the ones who tried to feel sorry for him. Tom refused to be pitied and usually washed the face of the person trying to do it. It may be I need to change the name of the exhibition to "Kisses from Tom".
And then I had only one box left. It had been a year since John´s passing. I stayed up late on the last day of November, and when the clock showed me the month had changed into December, I opened the box.
A little velvet pouch that contained a small key. No explanation there. I had no idea where this key would fit, but it looked old.
In the morning there was a knock on my door. I opened it, and the mail guy handed me a big box. I knew I had the answer to my mysterious key now.
Inside was a hand made wooden box, and the key fit perfectly. I opened the lid and stared at bright colored silk. I pulled it out and underneath, on a cushion, found an old fashioned typewriter. A real, old typewriter. There was a paper in it.
"I hope this year has taught you there is joy everywhere. It just takes a little concentrating to see it and act on it. But the greatest thing to bring us joy are the stories of others. Your stories brought me so much joy during my last weeks. You may not have realized your gift, but you are a storyteller. So my last gift to you are your own stories. If you don´t know how to start, just write about my gifts to you, and how they helped you to return to laughter, if they did. And then continue from there.
I used this typewriter when I was a child, to type my own stories. I loved the noise it makes. Try it, write a story for my memory. I understand if you wish to use your computer instead but I really feel there is such a special feeling to an old fashioned typewriter...
I shall be reading over your shoulder, my dear friend. Thank you for being there for me,
This was my first try with the old typewriter. It may not be the best piece of literature you have seen, but nothing ever is perfect at your first try. Still, I hope you enjoyed the story.
And now, I am off to write some more.
Return to Laughter is the Best Medicine from Return to Laughter
Below are the books I've written so far.
An illustrated children's book about the life and death of Tutankhamun. This book was chosen for the "King Tut - Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh" tour that travels the world (10 cities) starting in March 2018 (Los Angeles > Paris > London > Sydney)