Years ago, I used to manage a retreat that focused on death and dying workshops. At one of these events, there were about 100 people. All of them had a close connection to loss. Some were hospice caregivers, some were families of terminally ill patients, some were patients near death and some had recently lost a loved one.
The retreat lasted ten days and most of it was held in silence. On the seventh day, the instructor informed me that he wanted to work with some people individually. Knowing my interest in humor and healing, he asked me to take the group over and do a session on that subject. Because of the gravity of the circumstances facing nearly everyone in the group, I was a bit apprehensive to discuss humor. But I did.
Before I tell you exactly how the group responded, you need to know that all meals were strictly vegetarian. Harold was the cook. It was obvious from his rotund size that he really enjoyed food. He had been the cook at the center for many years and was good at what he did.
But this was the first time that Harold had to adhere to a strict vegetarian menu. Knowing that he had little experience with this kind of cooking, we tried to clue him in on how to prepare well-balanced healthy vegetarian meals. But he didn't get it. Many of his meals consisted solely of pasta, potatoes and rice. Vegetarian, yes. Healthy, no.
The evening I was to present my discussion of humor and healing, I decided that I would give the group a multiple-choice exam. The first question I asked them was, "My favorite meal on this retreat thus far was:
A -- Pasta and potatoes,
B -- Rice and pasta,
C -- Potatoes and rice.
My opening question brought down the house. The audience laughed loud and long. When the laughter died down, I asked the second multiple-choice question,, "Harold’s favorite food was:
A -- Rice
B -- Pasta
C -- Potatoes.
Again the audience went wild.
By the time I got to the third question, "Your favorite retreat cook is...", all I had to do was say "A" - without even revealing what the first choice was - and the audience went into hysterical laughter. It was the most boisterous and receptive audience I had ever had. Later on, I realized why.
I was providing a release for them. After many days in silence and intense soul-searching, the laughter provided much needed relief and a release of built up tension. I also realized that the laughter that night was as important as the tears they had been crying all week.