If laughter is the best medicine, Louise Cadieux knows how to administer just the right amount.
Cadieux, who works as an activities assistant at Cherry Hill Manor in Johnston, said humor has gotten her through difficult times. She was born unable to walk - using a cane now - and has had more than a dozen surgeries over the course of her life, but she’s been able to laugh through it all.
Cadieux shares some of that positivity through her humor workshops, which are events she has held at senior centers, rehab hospitals and leisure groups for the past six years.
“Sometimes I’m the comedic relief at a conference to kind of break things up,” Cadieux said during a Feb. 3 interview at Cherry Hill Manor. “I just try to get people to laugh, because I know that’s very important. Everybody has gone through hardships. I was born handicapped. I couldn’t walk when I was born. I’ve had, to this date, 15 surgeries and my philosophy is nothing can keep me down.”
The workshop is how she ended up connected to the Manor, after marketing director Loraine DiLorenzo booked her for an event last spring. DiLorenzo was hosting a breakfast for former rehab patients, and encouraged Cadieux to host a program.
Around the same time, Cadieux was about to have shoulder surgery and looking for a physical therapy department that could help with her recovery. The folks she spoke to during the breakfast had rave reviews for Cherry Hill Manor, so Cadieux said her choice was easy.
“So I said to Loraine, ‘You know what? I think I’d like to come here,’” Cadieux said. “In fact, that day, before I had my surgery, when I was here she called somebody from the therapy department and they explained what they would do to me when I was here.”
Then, DiLorenzo told Cadieux - who had decades of experience working in events and activities for RI Meals on Wheels and Arbor Hill Assisted Living - that there was a job available.
It was just another example of the steely Cadieux overcoming more adversity. She had worked at Arbor Hill before sustaining a fall that required surgery. She said her job couldn’t be held in the meantime, so she took up her workshops to generate income. She said she didn’t “want to be a couch potato,” so she continued to motivate others. Her daily routine at Cherry Hill Manor allows her to do just that.
“I said, ‘You know what I would like, I want to do something where I can talk to people here and kind of spur them on,’” Cadieux said. “Sometimes I would hear the physical therapy girl say, ‘Ugh, I went up, they didn’t want to come down.’ So I said I’d like to be an ambassador and go to these new people and tell them how important it is. Right now, because they’re short, I’ve been going around and doing the wakeup and everything and checking with things that they need. But once she hires somebody, my job’s going to change.”
Cadieux said that she helps participants laugh through hard times by asking them to look at their situation from a different perspective. She used her own shoulder surgery rehab as an example, noting that she couldn’t even pull up her own pants while recovering.
“So I had brought a tool with me, and I said, you never know how humbled you’ve become when you have to call and somebody’s got to pull your own pants up,” Cadieux said. “Then I pull out this grabber thing that they had given me, and I said, ‘And to boot, you’re supposed to learn how to do this!’ And everybody just went hysterical in the room. I said, ‘But you’ve got to be able to learn to laugh at it.’
“There’s always a way to look at it. There’s always a light at the [end of the] tunnel. Letting them know that you have been there so that you can say, ‘You’ll come out of this.’”
Cadieux said she’s heard plenty of positive feedback from her workshops, and she enjoys the one-on-one time she gets with patients at the Manor. She likes to carry over her motivational tactics from her workshop to her workplace.
“If you’ve got the desire, I think there’s always somebody there that will work with you,” Cadieux said. “I get a little bit upset with people that go, ‘Oh, no, I can’t do that,’ and they sit on their couch and they’re crying because they’re bored and they lose the will to live … A lot of them will say, ‘Oh, will you be in tomorrow? Come talk with me again.’ You get that feel-good [feeling], which you don’t always get when you do the laughter workshops because you’re with a group.”
Cadieux does have a favorite joke, too, involving a couple, named Harold and Maude, who have been married more than 50 years. The joke begins with the two lying in bed, and Cadieux - ever the master of humor - takes it from there.
“Harold’s just about on his way to sleep, and she goes, ‘Harold, remember when we were courting? You used to hold my hand,’” Cadieux explained. “Harold rolls over, grabs her hand and then I do sound effects, I’ll [snore]. She shakes his hand, ‘Harold, you used to kiss me when we were courting.’ Rolls over again, snores. ‘Harold, you used to bite me on the neck.’ All of a sudden, Harold flings his blankets, jumps out of bed, and she goes, ‘Harold, what’s wrong? Where are you going?’ ‘I’m going to get my teeth.’”
It gets a laugh every time.