Funny is Good
In the midst of winter,
I finally learned
there was in me
an invincible summer.
We were saddened to learn of the untimely death on September 10 of John T. Royer at the age of 71. John became the voice of the PSP patient with his honest, perceptive, inspirational, erudite, educational – and yes, funny – dispatches from the front lines of the disease.
As the tributes piled up on our Facebook page, there was a common theme: John helped many, many others to get through the day-to-day struggles with the disease, whether patient or family member. Underlying his intelligence and wisdom was the firm conviction that as the body is ravaged, the spirit soars; it survives our temporal existence and remains to inspire others who will face the “monster” (as he called PSP) until we are able to find a cure.
John’s ability to find humor in suffering is found in the best of us, but few can express it as brilliantly as has he. His favorite saying – “funny is good” – became a mantra that took the pathos out of raw descriptions of his suffering, as if he was saying, “I got through another day and had a few good laughs” over human foibles and the absurdity of life. Being alive is reward enough.
Some years ago, John’s mother suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and was in a nursing home. Her days were monotonous and depressing. John writes:
“It occurred to me one day that possibly her sense of humor was still intact. Like sadness and anger, it is a basic emotion.
“I tried an experiment.
“We were sitting at the end of a hallway by a window in the nursing home and an idea occurred to me. I was going to become outrageous. A smile formed on my face and she stared at me in bewilderment. ‘Mom, do you know how I got here? I flew in on my 747 jet and parked outside the window. The door was too far off the ground so I had to open it and crawl through the window.’
“She looked at me and started laughing. I hadn’t seen her smile about anything for years. She always had this blank, serious look on her face.
“This was a good idea, I thought to myself.
“Serious doesn’t work.
Austrian psychiatrist Victor Frankl, in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, recounted his horrific experience as a prisoner in Auschwitz. Frankl wrote, “Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.”
Frankl believed that when all else has been taken away, man still has his last freedom — the freedom to “choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances.” John echoed Frankl when he wrote, “PSP destroys you only if you let it. The human spirit is separate from the body and eventually leaves it when the body dies.
“I told my wife that if I precede her in crossing over to the other side, I will build her a grand house, which she will never have to clean.
“That was an appealing thought to her.
“Funny is good.”
RIP John T. Royer.