Is It OK To Have Fun When Someone Is Dying?

Just how seriously do we have to take this whole dying thing?

Posted Jan 23, 2017

When people are angry, in pain, or have clearly reached that point of being ready to give up on everything and everyone ever—is there anything you can do to help them restore their playfulness, their sense of humor, their ability to see the funshine again? 

I sure hope so.

If I were doing that, trying to help as a "fun coach", the first step I'd take would be to explore, together, where the fun is. Even when they're in pain. I know, I know, they're probably more than mildly convinced that there's nothing fun about it at all. Absolutely, entirely nothing.

I wouldn't try talk to them about how they could nevertheless make it fun, make something like pain fun again; I'd be steering them directly towards the deeper parts of depression. If I were working on the premise that the only path to having fun again is to make it fun, I'd be saying: "look, I know you know it really isn't fun, it's really as bad as, if not worse than, you think it is. So maybe you can try to make it fun (which seems to be pretty much impossible, because you know it isn't). Maybe you can pretend it's fun (the word for that is "denial").

As soon as you try to make something fun, the fun part will never be part of the thing itself, but something outside, a disguise.

Better, far better, is to find fun in it, the fun of it.

So, you're in pain. And you're dying. And there's nothing you can do about it. Where's the fun in that? Maybe it's in just letting go. In accepting, embracing, celebrating even the inevitable end of pain. Maybe death is a time when everything becomes different, special, every moment of life set in a whole new context. Every thought you share, every word that someone says, every touch, newly precious.

Sure, you need to take it seriously. If you were of sufficient illumination, you could take it as a gift, even. But even a regular guy and/or guy like you can take it playfully, like what people do when they're paying the game It Could Be Worse. Or,  making up some kvetchy version of the game of Dayeinu—"if it didn't hurt, that'd be fine by me," and "if it hurt, but not so much, that'd also be fine." You can play with it. You can have fun with it.

One sign of the presence of fun inside of something is beauty. Because you enjoy beauty. If you can find it in whatever it is you're going through, anything beautiful at all, you've found where at least some real, deep fun is.

Below is a photo my son Elyon took of one of his (and his dog's) favorite places in the woods outside his village. It's called, in Hebrew, a ביוב which, loosely translated, means "a sewer." It's the place where waste water is reclaimed. It's beautiful.

And if you get too close, it stinks.

If you're a dog, all the more fun.

If you're a human, it's a great opportunity to wax philosophical.

About the Author

Bernard De Koven is the author of The Well-Played Game. He writes on theories of fun and playfulness and how they affect personal, interpersonal, community and institutional health.

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