Sr. Mary Renetta Graff…“Keep smiling. It will keep others wondering what you are up to.”
When someone asks, “What do you do for fun?” I can honestly say “I clown around.” Almost 15 years ago I met clowns in the lobby of the hospital where I was visiting parishioners who were patients. The two clowns shared their ministry of creating joy by giving a smile and providing a little humor at the bedside.
Today, as a member of The Comedy Connection Caring Clowns, I have fun with my friends visiting hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, adult memory units, hospice residences and other healthcare settings to relieve suffering and encourage healing. We attend Give Kids the World and Kids With Cancer Christmas parties. We support those who participate in the AIDS Walk and the End Alzheimer’s Walk.
As a Caring Clown I have learned to honor the Code of Ethics which includes these reminders:
• I will strive to “create joy in the moment”. I will expect nothing from my audience in return.
• I will always be respectful of a patient or resident’s personal space and seek permission to enter it.
• Whether “in clown” or as a civilian. I will always do my utmost to uphold a “caring clown” demeanor – an open heart, a listening ear and a sensitive nature.
The notion of healing humor can be found in the Book of Proverbs: “A cheerful heart is good medicine.” In the 1970’s, physician Hunter “Patch” Adams founded the Gesundheit Institute to promote the integration of traditional medicine with alternative practices, including humor therapy. Robin Williams brought Dr. Adams’ story to life in the movie Patch Adams. Continued research has shown that humor therapy can relieve stress for both patients and their caregivers, ease pain, improve the immune system and change brain chemistry among other physical, emotional and psychological benefits.
Here is a simple story that reminds us that even a brief meeting can brighten up someone’s life.
As Uni Corny [Cathy Gaj] and Good See [Sr. Renetta Graff] met in the hospital lobby before going upstairs, a woman came off the elevator pushing a young man in a wheelchair. We recognized him as a person with Downs Syndrome. When he saw us his eyes lit up and he said, “I am Michael.” Good See asked, “Can you do magic? I know you can.” She then proceeded to do a simple card trick with Michael saying his name aloud as the magic word. He grinned as we put a CLOWN’S SMILE sticker on his jacket. Then Good See asked, “Do you want to give her [pointing to the woman] a sticker?” After he said “yes”, the woman leaned over and asked, “Who am I? [pause] I am not your father.” Michael beamed and responded, “You are mother” and opened his arms wide. As his mother leaned down so he could put the sticker on her Michael tenderly kissed the sticker before putting it over his mother’s heart. “Thank you. We just visited his father who is a patient upstairs. I know Michael is worried about him.”