Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Light One Candle
Good humor – just when you most need it

by Dennis Heaney

(From the Oct. 25, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)

Dennis Heaney You just have to laugh. Well, you don’t have to – but it helps.

Every day, troubles loom before us. Some we’ve known and dealt with for a long time, others come out of the blue. Some are exasperating, but basically trivial. Others may threaten our very lives. I’m thinking particularly about people with major health issues. Whether you’ve watched loved ones face a grim diagnosis or you’ve had to face such a diagnosis yourself, it absolutely knocks the stuffing out of you.

Anyone who’s seriously ill needs a lot of things: quality health care, support from family and friends, and the mind-set to get through the tough times ahead. The last can be difficult to achieve for someone living with pain and fear – but it can make all the difference. A friend of mine, diagnosed with cancer, made up his mind to live with as much good grace and good will as possible. Several years later, after losing first his bladder and then his right lung, he’s adjusted to what he calls “a new normal.” His upbeat attitude has not only helped him, but also the people around him make it through the difficult circumstances.

I read about a doctor who described the patients who get cancer as either “transmitters” or “transformers” Transmitters relay the negativity of a bad situation to everyone they meet. Transformers, like my friend, do their best to truly change a negative into something positive.

And that’s where humor comes in. Studies show that laughter improves all kinds of human systems – immune, cardiovascular, respiratory, digestive and muscular. It reduces pain and stress; increases alertness and energy and provides an overall sense of well-being. Using humor helps increase our sense of control over events and diminishes the feeling of powerlessness found in most negative situations.

Mary Anne Sinclair knows all about the power of laughter. While she was undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer, she decided to get her priorities in order. She wanted to help children who are living and suffering with cancer. She always loved clowns, and now she decided to become one. Sinclair, a fashion designer, attended a clown school and encouraged some friends to join her in volunteering to work with the youngsters at Driscoll Children’s Hospital in Corpus Christi, Texas. Eventually, a small group of women increased to two dozen in the group known as Clowns Who Care and, in their colorful, elaborate costumes regularly visit and entertain sick children and their families as well.

“We get as much out of it as the kids do,” says Sinclair. The volunteers make a special point of spending time with the parents. “They’re worn out and they’re worried sick. We help them any way we can.” Sinclair concludes, “Working with the children has taught each of us one good thing: the infinite value of simply making someone happy.”

Making someone happy might seem pretty minor in the great scheme of things, except that we know better. A moment of joy and laughter can make a world of difference to people who are suffering, whatever the cause of their pain.

President John Kennedy said something I’ve never forgotten: “There are three things which are real: God, human folly and laughter. The first two are beyond our comprehension. So we must do what we can with the third.”

(Dennis Heaney is Director of The Christophers, an organization dedicated to the proposition that it is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness. For a free copy of the Christopher News Note “How to Live with Cancer,” write to: The Christophers, 12 E. 48th St., New York, NY 10017; or e-mail:

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