Laugh Medicine

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“Laugh Medicine,” Ensign, June 1992, 69–70

Laugh Medicine

When Kathy Summers isn’t being a volunteer clown working with children who have life-threatening illnesses, she is a homemaker in Kailua, Hawaii. She and her husband, Keith, have six daughters and three sons.

“I came to be a clown in a different way than most,” says Kathy. “We lost a baby, born prematurely at home; then we had our last daughter. After her birth, I became very ill for a long time. When I was finally well again, I felt I had a second chance at life and wanted to help dying people.” But she didn’t know how. Furthermore, she was busy rearing her family.

Kathy read about a man who had clowned to cheer the sad and sick children he had seen in a hospital. “A light turned on in my head and my heart,” she remembers. “A clown is what I had always been, anyway. I had always loved to make people laugh.”

The world of Kathy the Clown is magical—full of fun and love. It is a world in which she makes instant friends. She started simply, with a dyed mop head and an altered clown costume her daughter had.

After lots of reading and research, Kathy learned to make up her face, juggle, and perform an extensive variety of tricks that enchant children of all ages.

“I involve the children in all I do,” insists Kathy. “I don’t perform to them; I get them to do it all with me. They love to be a part of everything. ‘Do you eat worms?’ I like to ask them. And when they tell me no, I pull out a candy gummy worm, and they shout, ‘I eat worms!’” Laughter is great medicine.

Kathy the Clown gives out stickers, kazoos, and clown noses. She gives out balloons and lets the older children pump up their own, using an inexpensive hand pump with the end of the hose removed. “I always tell them what good pumpers they are,” she says. “I think they love to pump as much as they love getting a balloon.”

With the limited time Sister Summers has to give in the hospital—usually three hours a day, one or two days a week—she has learned one very important lesson: “I never hurry my visit with a child. Consequently, I only get to a few children each time.”

One-on-one time with a clown is magic, the hospital staff tell her, as do parents who have come to appreciate Kathy’s presence there. At times, the hospital staff will call her when a child is especially “down.” Then Kathy Summers brings her colorful Kathy the Clown self and her bag of tricks and gimmicks to cheer the child up. But the real magic she brings to these children is her love.

To Kathy the Clown, laughter is the best medicine.