Greg Schwem, Tribune Content Agency

by Greg Schwem

When laughter isn’t the best medicine, a hug might do the trick.

Mary Louise and Marty showed up faithfully at the park each morning at 7:30. Stopping their SUV in the same space, Mary Louise, 68, emerged with a bowl of water, followed by her husband, 85, and armed with a tennis ball. They opened the car’s hatch as if they were pulling back a Broadway curtain to reveal the show’s marquee star.
Shamus, their 3-year-old border collie, played the role well.
For the next 45 minutes, owners commiserated as our dogs, including Macie, my cockapoo, frollicked in the unfenced park, regardless of weather. Shamus never tired of chasing the ball, no matter how far Marty’s plastic contraption launched it. We laughed as our dogs sniffed owners’ butts, knowing treats were in nearby pockets. I began using the owners as my “test audience,” trying out lines I might use on stage in upcoming standup comedy shows. One day I remarked that I was going on a business trip but was anxious to get home “to be with those I love the most.”
“It’s hard to leave your dog,” I added.
Mary Louise laughed the hardest.
The dogs rolled, wrestled, barked and slurped. Shamus was usually the ringleader.
“He’ll run around like this every morning and then he’ll sleep all afternoon,” Mary Louise said.
Gesturing to Marty, I replied, “And what will Shamus do?”
More laughs. They came fast and freely.
Until one day, they didn’t.
Returning from nearly a month-long corporate speaking tour, Macie and I arrived at the park to see Mary Louise exiting her SUV, clutching the water bowl. As she moved toward me, I saw an opportunity for humor.
“We’re all losing our memories, Mary Lou, but did you forget Shamus?”
I regretted it the moment I saw the tears.
“We lost him,” was all she could say before breaking down.
Shamus, she explained after composing herself, suffered from seizures but neither she nor her husband thought they would cause their beloved companion’s death so quickly. Anticipating my next question, she said Marty hadn’t been able to return to the park.
“But you’re still coming,” I said.
“I wouldn’t know what to do all day,” she replied, walking toward the gazebo where the owners congregated if it was raining, snowing or oppressively hot. Our dogs never complained about the elements because, well, they’re dogs.
How I wanted to make Mary Louise laugh at this particular moment. Was there something, anything, I could say to bring out a smile or even a soft chuckle? I firmly believe humor has a place anywhere. I recounted the funerals I’ve been to where mourners laughed more than they cried. Occasionally I’ve been asked to speak about the deceased, solely because a relative figured I could lighten the mood with comedy. It’s never an easy task, but one I relish.
Yet, here I was, looking at a woman whose morning routine would never be the same, despite her best attempt. Macie was fidgeting, so I told her to hang in there, turned and headed for home with my very healthy four-legged friend.
A week later Macie and I returned, hoping to see the cadre of dogs we’d come to expect. On this particular day, the grass was empty. There was only the SUV in the parking lot.
As we got closer, the door opened and Mary Louise emerged. She’d been waiting for one of us to arrive, just so she could lavish love on an animal, even if it wasn’t hers. I knew she’d been crying.
I asked about Marty. He still wasn’t making the trip.
Hesitating, I plowed forward with the “elephant in the room” question.
“Do you think you’ll get another one?”
“I’d like to, but I’m not sure I can go through this again,” she said.
“I know something you need right now,” I said, wrapping my arms around her.
Wear a mask if it makes you feel safer or more comfortable, but never be afraid to reach out, literally and physically, to someone in need. Do it today.
Because, like laughter, hugs will always have a place in the world.
(Greg Schwem is a corporate stand-up comedian and author of two books: “Text Me If You’re Breathing: Observations, Frustrations and Life Lessons From a Low-Tech Dad” and the recently released “The Road To Success Goes Through the Salad Bar: A Pile of BS From a Corporate Comedian,” available at Visit Greg on the web at
You’ve enjoyed reading, and laughing at, Greg Schwem’s monthly humor columns in Senior Living News. But did you know Greg is also a nationally touring stand-up comedian? And he loves to make audiences laugh about the joys, and frustrations, of growing older. Watch the clip and, if you’d like Greg to perform at your senior center or senior event, contact him through his website at