life is better when you're laughing

By Erika Farber
Woman Newspapers

According to the experts, laughter reduces pain, increases job performance, connects people emotionally, and even improves the flow of oxygen to the heart and brain. In other words, laughter is the best medicine.

It isn’t always easy to muster a smile let alone maintain a sense of humor, but being blessed with friends who provide a steady supply of laughter truly can make all the difference.

In high school, I didn’t always follow the conventional path, which inevitably led to a lot of anger and tears. The one thing that kept me sane during my adolescence was my best friend, Brian. Unlike the other boys in my Catholic high school - whose interests seemed to include little more than sports, chasing girls, and avoiding showers - Brian was a sensitive soul.

At over six and a half feet tall, the only thing bigger than his physical being was his personality. Brian possessed a razor sharp wit and an unfailing capacity to make me laugh. His impersonations of our teachers, parents and classmates got us in trouble more than once. During the four years of school, we were inseparable.

After graduation, we attended the same college for about a year, but life circumstances took us in different directions. We found ourselves hurtling towards adulthood at divergent paces, and all the joking and easy banter that defined our relationship for so long took a back seat. We were growing apart, and there didn’t seem to be anything we could do about it.

We lost touch for about 10 years although I thought of him often. By chance, we bumped into each other one day. It was a strange and bittersweet moment: even though so much time had gone by, it didn’t feel that way, we picked up right where we left off.

Once a fledgling photographer with a keen eye for beauty in the most ordinary of places, Brian had blossomed into a seasoned and passionate artist. His career in the fashion industry took him to all corners of the world for photo shoots and set design. His portfolio was magnificent, and his life was rich with color, music, adventure and happiness.

Both Brian and I had weathered some very difficult times, but in the intervening years apart, I saw he’d grown into an introspective and caring man. He viewed the world fairly and clearly, with a sense of whimsy, but never an eye for judgment. I marveled at the fact that this man had been through such tough times, but made it through to the other side brighter, savvier, and more optimistic than ever.

During a particularly rough period in my life, eager to shift the conversation from myself, I casually asked Brian how he’d been doing. He mentioned that he too just had the rug pulled out from under him: He’d been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. In his typical calm fashion, he explained that although the prognosis wasn’t good, not to worry, he had a plan.

Somehow, I wasn’t worried. His condition had seemed to plateau in a healthy place, he looked strong, with color in his cheeks and a sparkle in his eye. He continued to work and travel, meditate, eat right, and surround himself with beauty, joy and laughter. It was certainly working, and taking many cues from him, I too felt my own strength and resilience return.

He later confessed that he’d had a few breakdown moments in coming to terms with what his future was going to be, but characteristically he’d learned from them, and moved past them. Through setbacks and surgeries, we shared many stories and meals. He seemed invincible.

By the time Brian’s body gave in to the sickness, he was fully reconciled with it. I didn’t want things to change - I wanted to talk to him like we normally did. But what was “normal” now? I had no idea. There is no set precedent for sharing these few, final, precious moments, especially with someone so close to you, so dear.

I decided to recount a story from high school, one our friends remember as being “quintessential Brian.” This particular story involved our high school teacher urging us to share a favorite song with the class. Brian shared an obscure, New Wave song that he loved, but whose dark and allegorical lyrics thoroughly confounded the rest of the class. We thought that was hysterical.

I asked Brian if he remembered this. “Yeah, duh! Those friggin’ people didn’t know nothin’ about music.” I cracked up. As always, Brian had managed to turn the moment into  . The sparkle never left his eye, and that wit never left his soul.

He passed away less than a week later. I wondered how I would ever find laughter again, now that my dear friend was gone. At his memorial service, I listened as countless friends and mourners got up to speak. Nearly everyone’s story about Brian was just like mine.

Brian may be gone, but his memory will never die. My heart no longer feels empty when I think of him. That emptiness was healed, in a way, by the laughter and the memories we shared. And every time I laugh now, I think of him, and hope he is somewhere out there, giggling along with the joke.

For pictures of Brian, his adventures & his artwork, please visit Instagram #amazingbrian #brianblooms