I am often asked, “What is Letters to Jennifer From Maudie and Oliver about?”
I say it is about “cats, cancer, and humour.” This always causes a thoughtful pause, followed by a stare, and then more silence.
What could possibly be funny about cancer? Well, nothing is funny about cancer. Or so you would think. I am going to tell you a true story about how humour can be found in the oddest places.
Many years ago, a new airline started operations in Western Canada. The service was “no frills”– no reservations, no seat assignment, and certainly nothing to eat.
One day, at a scheduled stop, 13 Hells Angels bikers clamoured on board. On this airplane, there was one main aisle with rows of three seats on each side. Three bikers sat in the first row on the left side. One biker sat in the aisle seat of the second row. Beside him, trapped in the centre and window seats sat an elderly couple. Three bikers occupied the row behind.
The elderly couple had never been on an airplane before. Prior to these gentlemen taking their seats, the elderly couple was in a semi-state of anxiety. Now they were in a full-blown state of terror! She clutched her handbag and he clutched her. Not only did they believe that they had descended into Hell, but they had probably progressed to one level below.
After a few moments, a tall, beautiful, blonde flight attendant came up the aisle and said to herself, “Oh my, I have to do something about this and I have one minute to do it before takeoff.” She approached the biker sitting beside the elderly couple, tapped him on the shoulder and said, sternly, “Now, you listen to me – if this couple gives you any trouble, you just let me know!”
Everyone burst into laughter. Shortly after takeoff, the elderly couple and the Hells Angels members each brought out their own photographs of grandchildren and Harley Davidsons. Everyone relaxed.
For those of us who witnessed that flight attendant’s quick-thinking, it was a wonderful lesson on breaking tension, thinking on your feet, and providing a humorous moment.
Laughter lifts us up from whatever problem, concern, and even pain we may have and gives us a moment of respite. Living with cancer can sometimes seem like walking on hard stones with our bare feet. Laughter gives us soft shoes, just for a moment, to make the next few steps easier. They may only be moments, but those moments stand on their own – outside of cancer, pain and despair.
And, if we can share the laughter, it is a good thing.
I do volunteer work at a Winnipeg hospice. Often, the first thing I hear when I walk through the front door is laughter. And it is so heartening to see a smile on the face of someone who is experiencing extreme suffering.
Cancer is a steep and treacherous journey, but humour can give us moments of feeling good, even in the battle against cancer. My friend Jennifer experienced moments of delight from the letters by Oliver and Maudie, two very precocious and spoiled Siamese cats. (I know because they live with me. I am LIP – their Live-In Person.)
It is okay to use good humour, when it is appropriate, with your loved ones suffering from cancer or any other debilitating condition. They will appreciate it, and you will too. Letters to Jennifer From Maudie and Oliver has been enjoyed by readers aged seven to adult. Excerpts are below. The cover design and illustrations are by talented Regina artist Erika Folnovic.
If you purchase the book (it's on sale for $9.95 CAN), my publisher will make a donation from each book sold to cancer research programs. So, before you go to bed, you can read a letter to Jennifer from the book (Maudie and Oliver are very funny), have a good laugh and a good night’s sleep, knowing you are also helping others.
Editor's note: Letters to Jennifer from Maudie & Oliver was awarded Honorable Mention in the 2013 Animals, Animals, Animals Book Festival in Chicago. Yes, it's that good!