HUMOR: The healing gift of his humor

Here's what I've learned as a humor columnist. You can pick your friends. You can pick your nose. But you can't pick on Poplar. I've learned that humor heals. "Laughter doeth good like a medicine," the Bible says.

Here's what I've learned as a humor columnist. You can pick your friends. You can pick your nose. But you can't pick on Poplar. I've learned that humor heals. "Laughter doeth good like a medicine," the Bible says.

I've learned that laughter, like love, heals. A good guffaw is a great tonic. Laughing relaxes rage, tames tension, assuages anger and makes life much more livable.

One way I've learned all these valuable life lessons about laughter is through loss. My friend of 25 years, Kevin Ahlstrom, died April 9. I found him unresponsive on his living room floor. The docs say he had a stroke, fell, hit his head and sustained massive brain trauma. He suffered over Easter weekend and died the following Monday. He was 48-years-old.

Kevin was a lot of things. He was reliable, committed and loyal. He was irritating, frustrating and maddening. He was big, bold, messy and Swedish. He was generous and penurious. He was smart and silly simultaneously. In short, he was human.

Now that Kevin is gone and I'm painfully realizing his absence, the most glaring vacancy in my life is the loss of his sense of humor.


I never realized until he was gone that Kevin's wry observations, his dry wit, his ironic comments, his deadpan delivery, his stupid puns, his nasty-nerdy-nonsensical jokes made me laugh often and enjoy life more and -- most importantly -- helped me take myself less seriously.

When Kev laughed, his whole body shook. His hearty laughter turned his face red. His hilarity brought tears to his eyes. Often, around the Friday night dinner table at LanChi's or the Elbo Room or the Upper Deck, Kevin laughed so hard he daubed tears away with his napkin. Sometimes when he thought of something funny, he would start laughing before he could speak. His eyes would scrunch together, his nose would crinkle, his mouth would curl up and he would start huffing and wheezing in delight.

The rest of us would sit there and watch and wait for him to try and speak and he would laugh and waggle his blonde-haired head and attempt to get his humor out for the rest of us to enjoy, but he couldn't. He would sit there and quake with laughter and quiver with joy and without fail, we would start laughing with him and he hadn't even told his joke. That's another thing I've learned, humor is contagious in the best possible way.

It's no fun to get a cold. But if I get the joke, it is a great joy. Sometimes the joke flops. Kevin was notorious for saying something "funny" and nobody laughing. Right now, this minute, I can still hear him saying, "I should have quit when I was ahead," when his humor failed. "Just one joke too many," he often said when all he got from us was confused silence. And of course, his self-deprecation made us laugh.

Over the years of Friday Night Dinners, Kev's often lengthy jokes became, themselves, a great source of amusement. He would go on and on and on setting up a joke, and by the time the punch line came, we were all so bored it was funny.

Kev's often labored delivery led to another of his favorite routines. We all came to know his favorite jokes so he would go directly to the punch lines.

"He should have quit when he was a head," was all Kevin had to say, and we all laughed because we'd heard the set-up so often. All Kevin had to say was "Butt Crack Mountain," and we'd all burst into glee. This comic shorthand was so efficient, all Kev had to say was "Number twenty-nine," and we would know which joke he was referring to and laugh without having to suffer through his interminable set-ups.

After his death, in one of his personal papers I read that he thought his sense of humor was a "cover" for his sadness. I see it differently. Kevin's sense of humor was a medicine, a healing that dissolved the sadness of life and transformed the everyday suffering.


In the too short years I knew Kev, the greatest gift he consistently gave was good humor and laughter. I didn't know until he was gone that Kevin was a healer.

"Laughter doeth good like a medicine."

Kevin never touched a stethoscope to our backs. He never wielded a scalpel to eradicate a tumor from our flesh. He never wrote a prescription to make our bodies better. He never ordered a "cat" scan or "lab" work (Joke # 12.) to heal our diseases. Kevin never prayed with the laying on of hands to cure our sick bodies.

But he did heal. He was kind and gentle and loving and generous and above all, funny. Kevin Ahlstrom's life was well lived because he gave us the gift of laughter, the gift of himself.

I am going to miss Kevin, miss the dulcet sounds of his soothing baritone voice rumbling in laughter, miss the way he ambled into a room saying, "Good Eveeeening." Miss asking him how he was and hearing him say, "I am well," as opposed to, "I'm good," which, to him, was a moral comment, not a health report.

I miss his wit, his jokes, his terrible puns, his wry observations, his dry social commentary, his ironic attitude, his red-faced jolly laughter when absurdity claimed him.

As Kev would say, "Joy cometh in the mourning." I'm going to miss him. Kevin Arthur Ahlstrom...the healer.

Life is short. Make it happy. I'm Mike Savage, and I'm done.


Mike Savage is a Superior-based author, publisher and radio commentor. He can be reached at or see his Web page, .

What To Read Next