Thursday, March 27, 2014

Growing old, humor, and the elephant in the room

Your vignettes about growing old can be among your most powerful stories. I encourage you to include several in your memoir—your own stories or those of others. (If you missed Part 1 about growing old, click on this link: Growing old: the silly side.)

Now, your readers might assume an elderly person is a feeble, tired, out-of-date fuddy duddy, but don’t let them get away with that!

You have this opportunity to educate younger generations about old-timers. Life for all generations can be better if you share your wisdom and insights.

One of the best ways of doing that, or maybe the best way, is to start with humor, something light-hearted, funny, amusing …

Something like this tall tale:

Two old women were sitting on a park bench outside a town hall where a flower show was in progress.

One lady leaned over and said to the other, “Life is so boring. We never have fun anymore. For five dollars, I’d take off my clothes and streak through that flower show.”

“You’re on!” laughed the woman, holding up a five dollar bill.

The first little old lady wiggled out of her clothes and, naked, streaked through the front door of the flower show.

From outside, her friend heard a commotion inside the hall, and then applause.

In a few moments the naked woman burst through the door surrounded by a cheering crowd.

“What happened?” asked her curious friend.

“I won First Prize for Best Dried Arrangement.”
(author unknown)

When you start with humorous stories, you do more than entertain:

  • Humor gets your readers’ attention: it pulls them in and keeps them reading.
  • It connects your readers with you.
  • It can gain readers’ admiration and acceptance.
  • Humor endears you to your readers.
  • Funniness makes you seem real. You are no longer a vague author lurking in shadows. Instead, your reader has spent a happy time with you and feels like he knows you and, as a result, he likes you. He wants to know you better.
  • Laughter is a universal language, a common connector, a shared experience.
  • Humor lets you and your readers tackle the elephant in the room.

What is that elephant in the room? It’s the issues no one’s talking about (at least not to your face; they might, however, talk about them behind your back).

Here’s the elephant in the room:

When you grow old, your body is no longer young and firm, your hair grays, your face wrinkles, your neck skin droops and wobbles, your hand shakes, your mind forget things, and your balance isn’t as good as it used to be. You are considered undependable, if not downright dangerous, and they take away your car. Some day you’re going to die. You’ll be dead. Until then, your physical and mental health will continue to deteriorate. You’ll start to smell bad. You could end up dependent upon others to feed you, bathe you, dress you, brush your teeth, and carry out all your personal needs. It’s not pretty. In fact, some people consider it disgusting.

That’s the elephant in the room.

Humor, however, lets you acknowledge the obvious. It brings sensitive issues out of the darkness and into the light. It offers your readers a look at realities through fresh eyes.

And then something lovely can happen: Looking at aging in a humorous way can soothe tension and soften uneasiness younger people might feel. Humor can make old people appear less alien, not as weird and creepy as the younger generation thought. The experience helps them realize they don’t need to distance themselves from old-timers.

Looking at aging in a light-hearted way can also reinforce this truth: Aging is natural. It can help younger generations accept aging as a normal part of life that even they will experience. Chuck Swindoll says it this way: “… The story gives them permission to laugh at the struggles that every [person] inevitably faces.…” (Touching Others With Your Words)

Since aging is a normal part of life, oldsters might as well enjoy it! Make the most of it!

When you share stories about the funny side of old age, your message is something like this: I know I’m old, but it’s not a failure on my part—it’s a natural part of the cycle of life. It happens to everyone, so I choose to see the glass half full, not half empty. I’m making the best of my situation. I’m enjoying life as much as I can.

This next little story sheds light on another reality: Elderly people have Senior Moments. But hey, that, too, is a natural part of life! We might as well acknowledge it with light-heartedness. 

An elderly lady did her shopping and, upon returning to her car, found four men in the act of stealing it.

She dropped her shopping bags, drew her handgun, and screamed, "I have a gun, and I know how to use it! Get out of the car!"

The men jumped out and ran for their lives.

The lady, shaken, loaded her shopping bags into the car and sat down in the driver's seat, but she was so flustered she couldn’t get her key into the ignition.  She tried and tried, and then, slowly, it dawned on her. She jumped out of the car and grabbed her bags.

A few minutes later, she found her car parked a few spaces down the aisle. She loaded her bags, drove to the police station, and turned herself in. The sergeant couldn't stop laughing.

He pointed to the other end of the counter where four pale men were reporting a carjacking by a mad, elderly woman described as white, less than five feet tall, glasses, curly white hair, and carrying a large handgun.

No charges were filed. (author unknown)

Like Chuck Swindoll says, "Humor makes difficult truths easier to accept." 

Your task: Challenge your readers’ preconceived notions of being old.  Shake ‘em up a bit.

Looking at old age in a light-hearted way, oldsters and the youngsters together, lets everyone breathe easier. It defuses, it disarms, it helps remove mysteries. It eases awkwardness younger generations probably feel, and can make way for compassion and respect.

I encourage you to write a few vignettes about aging. By starting with one or more humorous stories, you establish a connection with your readers, and, of great importance: you make it possible to be heard later. (More on that next week.)


  1. This is a GREAT post, Linda! I've been feeling my aging body lately, and you're right that humor really helps to ease the mental pain if not the arthritis!

  2. Hi, Lia, I'm glad you enjoyed the post. Laughter is "good medicine" but it also opens up opportunities for being heard later when we need to address the painful, awkward, tough stuff. More on that on the April 3 post at