Northwest NEWS

September 30, 2002

Features

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Friends don't let friends frown

by Bronwyn Wilson
   Senior Staff Writer
   Donna Oiland, wearing a red rubber clown nose, pops her head out her car's window. Her five-year-old grandson, also in red clown nose fashion, sticks his head out the car's window too. Then in carefree joy, the two blow soap bubbles into the air. What would you think if you noticed this unusual behavior while stopped at a traffic light? It's not an everyday occurrence in our sober world, but Oiland and her grandson do it because they want people to laugh— that's all.
   "We worry too much what people think about us," remarks Oiland, coordinator for community outreach for the Dept. of Spiritual Care at Evergreen Hospital. She has a calling to bring humor to the lives of others and bubble blowing while decked out in a clown nose fits in with her jovial process.
   When discussing the importance of humor to maintaining good health, the word 'necessity' doesn't come to Oiland's mind. To her, it's more urgent than that. "It's an emergency," she states in a lighthearted but earnest tone. Studies show that the lack of laughter has become a serious deficit in our day-to-day adult lives. Children, she says, laugh 200 times a day, but adults manage to only emit 15 tee-hees per day. Children have no problem with throwing their heads back and letting loose in total merriment. But something happens when they grow up and become full-fledged mortgage-paying adults. The unrestrained, unabashed, uninhibited laughter they had as a child falls by the wayside. "If people would let themselves go and laugh like children ...," Oiland muses, "but we lose it as adults. We need to find ways to incorporate that back into our lives."
   For those who would like to know how to put high spirits back into their life, Oiland teaches free workshops called 'The Healing Power of Humor.' She covers the topic of humor with plenty of practice, interaction, cackles and giggles. Her next class will be held at the Redmond Senior Center, Oct. 7 from 10:15 to 11:30 a.m.
   Oiland became interested in the idea of humor and its healing power during the time of her husband's illness with colon cancer. "He used his humor to care for 'us' during his illness," she says. He wrote his own eulogy, which was read at his funeral. In the eulogy he explains that his wife had tried to stop him from writing the memorial words and continues, "Then she threw up her hands and said, 'Well, it's your-rr funeral'." Oiland says that her husband's use of humor during that difficult time not only caused those at the service to smile but also left a legacy that she carries on today. He inspires her to not take life so seriously. "People who are dying have the right to laugh," she says adding, "I think we all need to lighten up." She notes that some things just aren't funny like 9-11 or the death of a loved one. She speaks from the heart as she comes face to face with issues of death each day in her counseling job at the hospital. In addition, she not only knows the pain of losing a beloved husband but also a beloved daughter. Laughter for her has become a crusade to look at the lighter side of life, even in times of sorrow. She says she honors both her husband and daughter by showing others that you can focus on the positive in serious times. "And you can laugh at serious things," she says, mentioning that people who find something to laugh about in difficult circumstances can survive whatever they're going through.
   Last May 2002, Oiland became a certified laugh leader after attending 'The World Laughter Tour' in Seattle, a lecture tour dedicated to the applications of laughter and humor for health and peace. At the seminar's conclusion she earned an official laugh certification, giving her license to practice humor. Due to her new leadership position, Oiland was invited to lead a humor workshop for a sales group at an upscale hotel in Seattle. "I made them pretend they had an ice cube down their back and they were all laughing," she remembers. When her Evergreen co-workers heard of her training and her workshop they suggested she offer her class to the community.
   And now she does. In her upcoming laugh workshops, Oiland will suggest ways for her students to incorporate humor into their lives, such as keeping a notebook of things that make them laugh. She has lots of examples of how she brings humor to her own everyday routine and will share those with the class. "Today's Friday the 13th," she says, offering an example. "I brought my co-workers rubber noses." She also has a stuffed happy face with a pink bubble nose. When pressed, it bursts into a thousand hyena-like hee, hee, hee-hee's. "It makes people laugh," she says. To keep her day light and cheery, she listens to funny audiotapes while driving around in her car, like tapes by Loretta LaRoche who advises humor as a way to cope with stress. She also has comical videos that she plays on the VCR when she needs a humor pick-me-up at home. "Mirthful laughter increases your heart rate and is good for your respiratory system," she says. "After you've laughed hard, you feel better. And for that moment, you love your life."
   Oiland cites a research study proving that laughter improves physical well-being. "It's a fascinating study," she says. Two control groups volunteered to fast for a period of time. One group was placed in a sedate room and the other watched a funny movie. At the conclusion of the study, both groups had their blood checked. "For the group that watched the funny video there was a marked increase in the cells that fight infection," she says. She points out that people don't need to have something funny to laugh about in order to reap the benefits of humor's healing power.
   The belief that humor and healing have a connection has spread to the medical community. Oiland says more and more hospitals have on-site humor rooms where patients can chuckle with family members while viewing comedies together.
   To reserve a space for the Oct. 7th humor class at the Redmond Senior Center call (425) 556-2314. Northshore Senior Center in Bothell plans to repeat Oiland's class in the near future. Look for more information about it in the next NSC program bulletin, out in December.