Death is no laughing matter. To make fun of anything at or near the time of death is risky. My advice is don't do it. I have done it and regretted it and done it and thought it good. It is still risky. You need to have a good reason and good delivery and good timing, or it will be remembered as the foolish attempt to make things better.
So when is humor appropriate? And how do you use it? I recently officiated at a funeral where the deceased left me clear instructions to be funny at his funeral. None of this moping stuff. He was a stoical, hardworking, accomplished man and he had little time for tears. Needless to say, there were plenty of tears at his funeral, but I did my best to be funny. Of course, I told everyone that if they laughed at anything I said, it was his fault because he told me to be funny. We used to trade jokes when I visited him. He had some good ones, some I could use and some I couldn't, and some bad ones, some I could use and some I had to lose. But humor was a part of our journey together before he died.
I really got to know this man and his family. I was a part of them for a while. That is why I hardly every use humor with someone I have just met or right at the start of our relationship. That kind of humor says more about my fears or insecurities at that first meeting than it does about how I might minister to the patient. No, humor is too valuable to waste it like that.
Green lights for humor. When they are funny first. When they smile easily or laugh at something you say. When they give you permission to tell a joke. When they are sad and you ask them if they would like to hear a joke or a funny story. Get permission first, at least the first few times.
When people ask me what I can do for them, I have a short list, Pray and stay, smile a while, play some music on my harmonica, share Scripture, and I often tell them, I can tell bad jokes. Jokes and music are almost always welcome, even in the most devoted and religious patients.
Some jokes are without strategic purpose, except to lighten the mood and get someone to laugh. There is medicine there, right? But I use funny stories to get a conversation going.
A woman arrived at the Gates of Heaven. While she was waiting for Saint Peter to greet her, she peeked through the gates.
She saw a beautiful banquet table. Sitting all around were her parents and all the other people she had loved and who had died before her. They saw her and began calling greetings to her "Hello - How are you! We've been waiting for you! Good to see you."
When Saint Peter came by, the woman said to him, "This is such a wonderful place! How do I get in?" "You have to spell a word," Saint Peter told her.
"Which word?" the woman asked.
The woman correctly spelled "Love" and Saint Peter welcomed her into Heaven.
About a year later, Saint Peter came to the woman and asked her to watch the Gates of Heaven for him that day.
While the woman was guarding the Gates of Heaven, her husband arrived. "I'm surprised to see you," the woman said. "How have you been?"
"Oh, I've been doing pretty well since you died," her husband told her. "I married the beautiful young nurse who took care of you while you were ill. And then I won the multi-state lottery. I sold the little house you and I lived in and bought a huge mansion. And my wife and I traveled all around the world. We were on vacation in Cancun and I went water skiing today. I fell and hit my head, and here I am. What a bummer! How do I get in?"
"You have to spell a word," the woman told him.
"Which word?" her husband asked.
Now that is funny. More importantly, it's useful as a lead into questions about heaven, who's going, how do you get there, who decides whether you get in and more. That story allows me to share the good news of God's plan for a Forever Friendship with God. I like to share Psalm 100 after I tell that story. Here is the Message version.
Psalm 100The Message (MSG)
A Thanksgiving Psalm
100 1-2 On your feet now—applaud God!
Bring a gift of laughter,
sing yourselves into his presence.
3 Know this: God is God, and God, God.
He made us; we didn’t make him.
We’re his people, his well-tended sheep.
4 Enter with the password: “Thank you!”
Make yourselves at home, talking praise.
Thank him. Worship him.
5 For God is sheer beauty,
all-generous in love,
loyal always and ever.
Sing yourselves into His presence. So God must love music. I'm glad for that, being a musician. And he must love to laugh, because it says bring a gift of laughter as well. Hallelujah, God likes to laugh. And it almost looks like He requires it to get into heaven. The third requirement in this Psalm is Gratitude. Knowing where your blessings come from and offering thanks and praise to God for them. Gratitude, or as Peterson puts it in the Message, the password to heaven is "Thank You."
So sing and get funny and thank God for all of it.
Humor: purposefully employed can open up a world of conversations and gently open closed doors to what is often a difficult and painful subject, Death. Presented well, a funny story can help one show up at the gates, all so well prepared for that face to face meeting with an enchanting and accepting God who loves to laugh and sing and fellowship with His children. Master humor and God will teach you how to make a difference with your funnies.
What do you call a Rabbit with Fleas. Bugs Bunny. That's all folks.