Mom is Laughing Again

Alden Olmsted
6 min readApr 13, 2023

Being now 82, and with a limp from a blood clot in her foot, mom walks as tentatively inside the house as she does out.

She almost always makes sure to be holding onto something. When we moved in I bought one of those suction cup handles for the shower and it’s been a godsend, but she would still rather shower only when I’m home, just in case.

Last night I reminded her the next day was already Wednesday and that if she wanted to shower when I got home from work it might be a good idea.

“Maybe you can take a shower tomorrow,” I offered.

“Yeah?” she responded, “Or maybe I won’t shower for a month!”

She looked up with a huge smile as she laughed one of those full throated laughs that sounds like it’s adding days or even years to one’s life, which of course I would love if that’s the case.

Of course I laughed back.
“Hah ok ok,” I said, “well, see how you feel tomorrow.”

See I recently showed her Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, Jerry Seinfeld’s post-sitcom series of simple outings with friends, and she loves it.

She absolutely loves it.

In fact she’s addicted to it same as I was when I first saw it — I can see on her face the mix of enjoyment in watching people she (mostly) recognizes just have conversations about life — and the feeling of pure joy that Jerry chose such a simple idea and — maybe most importantly — that he kept it simple.

We’d just watched the Carl Reiner episode, where Jerry learns that Carl and Mel Brooks eat dinner together every night. They order take out and watch Jeopardy on TV trays.

Same as mom and I.

I wonder as I write that maybe seeing two other octogenarians with age-related challenges similar to hers (regardless of any celebrity status), if seeing them laughing despite their age, making the simplest of jokes just because they still can — I wonder if it’s like a kid seeing another kid jump rope — you can’t wait to try it yourself.

Maybe seeing those old guys telling each other jokes subconsciously inspired mom to get in on the fun.

Her joke, and the laughter that followed, shattered the somber reality of getting old, of arthritis, of not driving anymore, of relying on myself and others every day of her new life back in Northern California.

Her laughter was also a far cry from a family member being upset with her for not getting the vaccine. Tension that affected the relationship for about six months, tension that didn’t help as we navigated other issues — and especially galling knowing how precious time is — always precious of course but all the more so over 80, and not to belabor the point but now knowing how temporary the protection offered by the ‘vaccine’ actually was —

Ugh.

Being alone after her husband died last May was far more debilitating than any virus. In fact in the five months before I arrived, being alone was literally killing her, and that’s no exaggeration.

I thought about sharing the audio of her voice changing over the course of just a few weeks last September, a change that caused me to leave Nashville and figure out a way to get her out of that empty house.

But it’s too painful a sound.

It’s the sound of hope in fact disappearing.

Disappearing from the same woman who gave me hope in the first place — and truckloads of optimism that I would need later on btw— despite the circumstances of a single mom raising two boys.

Maybe that’s why this was so sweet — her laughter last night was the hardest and best laughter I’ve heard since moving back.

In fact maybe it was the hardest laughter I’ve heard from her, if I think about it, since before she was remarried 13 years ago.

And it beats fear any day of the week — honest, belly-deep, laughter.

Beautiful, genuine, glorious.

And mom isn’t the only one.

My brother has been laughing more too. Not just smiling more — that started within the first few weeks of the move, obviously enjoying that we all live in the same county again — which has not been true since he and his wife lived at mom’s for the first year of his daughter’s life.

It’s the smile of someone at peace. Despite the stress of teaching high schoolers spanish, he now seems able to let down his guard during off-work time. He teases me more like when we were kids, and I have to remind myself he’s joking, having been so conditioned to assume a seriousness in every part of life and most every interaction.

We’re able to joke again because we’re not consumed with other issues, like who’s checking in on mom, what doctor visits are overdue, which medical paperwork does she need help with, why can’t she hear her cell phone when we’re worried about her, and etc.

You could say it’s a Maslow’s hierarchy of comedic needs.

It’s soul-refreshing.

My brother’s joking is also a far cry from when he was upset I wasn’t masked as I got out of my car to meet for dinner in 2020. Never mind that I was by myself in the car and yes — we were meeting outside.

That dinner, and almost every other during that first year of the pandemic, went basically the same. Same tension. Same awkwardness.

No laughter.

Instead of soul-refreshing, I’d call these last three years soul-destroying.

For those internally saying:

“well Alden, we didn’t know as much then, and..”

and yada yada.

Nope.

I knew enough in my gut that how we were being told to treat each other was wrong. 100% wrong.

Taught to view others as vectors of disease and to be avoided at all costs — for ‘the greater good’ was destructive and no, ‘health’ isn’t just about avoidance of a single danger, esp. an overblown one, and again even more so when those ‘efforts’ cause a series of butterfly effects like social isolation and unintended mental health consequences — so yeah, we really screwed up.

And for that I cannot apologize or soft-coat anything. Whether we were led by fear or incompetence is a valid question — but given the results does it even matter now?

Maybe it was both.

You say

“but seriously Alden — it’s not like laughter was actually outlawed,”

You sure about that?

  • Sitting on the beach was outlawed
  • Going to a bar was outlawed
  • Singing in church was outlawed
  • Sitting in a coffee shop was outlawed
  • And yes — comedy clubs were outlawed

Though I lived through it even I can barely believe we actually tried those measures.

And most of us went along.

See there’s not much room for laughter when you’re pushing nothing but fear.

And isolation. And shame. 24–7.

And sadly it worked.

And that may have been the cruelest act of all.

Never again.

At least not while this woman needs to laugh.

“The new normal” was one of the first marketing slogans we were sold on, along with alone together and stay healthy, stay home.

To which I say, let’s flip those on their head and go forward reminding each other of truths we’ve always known:

  • What is “normal” anyway?
  • Alone sucks unless you’re Thoreau, no matter how many others are doing it “together.”
  • Staying healthy and staying home only applies to tornadoes and ice storms.

Last Saturday I ran into our local liquor store to get some beverages for an Easter dinner we were invited to. As I was getting out of the truck mom said “here,” and handed me a couple dollars.

“Oh, I got it” I said, and pushed her hand away.

She didn’t say anything but just nodded at the homeless gentleman by the door, indicating that’s what her dollars were for.

I’ve told her many times where the money most often goes when giving to *sadly* mostly drug addicted individuals but she doesn’t care. She is unable to operate as if we shouldn’t do anything.

She knows our many failings as a society shouldn’t be considered normal, and her attitude towards others is the opposite of new, in fact it’s as old as the golden rule, she’s been teaching me that my whole life.

Correction, she’s been modeling that my whole life.

So if you need us we’ll be running errands, giving out dollar bills to random people, and most nights watching Jerry and friends from our TV trays.

In our new normal, laughter is one activity that meets our definition of essential.

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Alden Olmsted

I was born in a small town in Northern California just another latch-key kid obsessed with BMX and Tom Petty. Now I make films and travel and write when I can.