When I was younger, I remember having little funerals for my goldfish that would occasionally die. I would have a toilet-side service with the fish scooper-upper and wipe a few tears as I said goodbye before the big flush. Fast forward years later and I never thought I would be imagining holding a funeral for a major part of my body. This turned out to be one of the most therapeutic aspects of my life with ulcerative colitis and surgery to remove my colon. If you live with inflammatory bowel disease, I want you to know that you aren’t alone, and it is possible to find humor to get you through the most challenging moments of the disease.
My struggle with ulcerative colitis began roughly four years ago. I tried numerous treatments and never found anything that controlled the disease well. I felt like I was captive in my home, always chained to the bathroom, and afraid to venture out. Ulcerative colitis can involve rectal bleeding, abdominal pain, fatigue, weight loss, and urgency to use the bathroom. Symptoms can range from mild to severe. My disease progressed rapidly toward the end, and I remember being so sick that I couldn’t eat or drink anything. Everything caused me problems. I was growing more frustrated and depressed.
The final ER visit before my colon surgery would lead to a two-week stay in the hospital. I begged the doctors to help me, and I knew the end was near for my colon. Because I was so malnourished, I was on a special nutrition line before my surgery (called a TPN Line or Total Parenteral Line) so that I could be healthy enough for the surgery. I had a lot of time on my hands in the hospital. I had a small sketchbook that my mom brought to me, and I would draw the beautiful flowers that sat in a vase by the window, along with calming images like waterfalls.
As I began thinking about the upcoming surgery, I thought about how glad I would be to be rid of my colon! It gave me nothing but problems by that time and I was happy to see it go. In fact, I imagined a grand send-off for it! I envisioned a lavish funeral for my colon with a fancy casket and towering flowers in vases. As I lay in my hospital bed, trying to put down a rough sketch, I pictured my colon in the casket on a fluffy white pillow. I instantly began laughing, which made the fear and uncertainty of the surgery a little easier to bear. I started telling myself that on surgery day, I would have this funeral for my colon while I was under anesthesia. I finished the tiny drawing of my colon and kept that sketchbook near me so that I would be reminded to laugh.
When I woke up from the surgery and was moved to the ICU, I shared the sketch and funeral idea with a couple of my nurses. They thought it was funny, too, and began telling others about it. I don’t think they had ever heard of someone giving their colon a funeral! But this funeral was just what I needed at that time to get through the challenging feelings and emotions I was experiencing.
Once I was home from the hospital, I worked on a full-color version of my colon funeral sketch and wrote a poem and even a ukulele song about it. In fact, I would add quite a few poems to the collection I had started at the beginning of my disease. I combined all my poems and drawings into a book so that it could help others see there is plenty to laugh about with inflammatory bowel disease. It may not seem like it at first, but if you look for the funny moments in your everyday experiences, it can help make you feel lighter. It can ease the burden of the disease and provide some comic relief.
Humor is a great way to get through such a terrible disease that is typically met with shame, fear, and uncertainty. Find those funny moments and let your imagination run wild. You can keep your musings private or share them with friends and family. What might your write or draw about inflammatory bowel disease that can keep you laughing?
My book Danger Zones, Underpants Dances, and Colon Funerals: Poems and Illustrations on My Life with Ulcerative Colitis is available on Amazon. You can check that out here.
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