Comedian struggles through grief to hope and laughter
By Emma Halgren
June 10 20142014 Hannah Boland has learned from painful experience what a gift laughter can be — and it’s a gift the comedian, musician and author is sharing with others through her stand-up comedy and storytelling show, which comes to Melbourne in mid-July.
Hannah, who worships with her husband Michael and their two children at St Stephen’s Anglican Church in Mittagong, NSW, has been touring New South Wales and the ACT with her Gift of the Gab show since March.
It is a show born, perhaps surprisingly, of her extraordinarily difficult journey over the past few years. In 2011, Hannah’s and Michael’s son Stephen was born with a brain abnormality that meant he only lived for 47 hours after birth. After a period of intense grief, Hannah became pregnant again, but at the beginning of 2013, 34 weeks into the pregnancy, she learned during a routine check-up that her baby had passed away.
Hannah suffered a nervous breakdown and was diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety.
In the depths of a grief that has left her “utterly shattered and broken”, Hannah says that occasional reminders of what it was like to laugh and to feel joy have helped to keep her going.
“With anxiety and depression, one of the things that happens is that you start to lose hope for the future,” she said. “It’s very hard to remember what it’s like to not feel like that and you almost start to think that that’s just normal and that’s how it’s going to be.
“And then every now and then, if you get to go out with a group of friends and have a good laugh, and you can sort of leave all the grief and troubles behind even just for an hour or so… in those moments when that happened, that gave me some of the most sturdy hope in my situation.
“It didn’t change my circumstances, it didn’t make me better in the longer run, but it just gave me hope again to think, ‘OK, do I want to be able to laugh again?’, and I just need to hang in there and hold on to that hope.”
It is this sense of hope that Hannah hopes to share with others through her stand-up comedy. Through her writing — she has published three books, and posts regularly to her blog The Bold and the Dutiful — Hannah also works to reduce the stigma associated with miscarriage, stillbirth, depression and anxiety.
She admits that her faith was challenged after the death of her second baby. This struggle is captured in her latest book,Superstitious Christianity, in which she turns to three of her most trusted Christian mentors with some “serious questions as to the goodness of God”.
Naming Pam Ayres and Spike Milligan among her influences, Hannah says she is drawn to the honesty of comedy.
“Oftentimes, people will laugh at something because they connect with the truth of it — all good humour has an element of truth to it,” she said. “What’s hysterically funny to me is watching a roomful of people laugh at something, they’ve connected with it and seen the humour and truth in it, and then you see them gasp and think, ‘Should we really be laughing at this?’
“I do have people come up to me after a show and say, ‘Thank you for that, I really needed that laugh’. The most rewarding thing for me is to have someone come up and say that or to see people crying with laughter, or sending me a message the next day saying, ‘I’m still laughing about your show’. I think God is really using that and I’m grateful for that.
“I want to remind people that God created humour, He does want us to have joy and to laugh again. If that just reminds somebody who’s doing it really tough, even just for one night, what it’s like to laugh again, and that God’s behind that laughter, I couldn’t ask for more than that.”