Take A Tragic Moment, Sprinkle Some Humor, and Shake Vigorously

How Dark Humor Helps Me Through Dark Times

pie“Since you killed Dad today, I’ll buy the pie.” I uttered those precise words to my sister, Heidi, on December 1, 2013.

Before you call the cops, let me explain. I grew up estranged from my father and had not seen him since I was 10. Last year, I learned that he was dying of lung cancer. My sister and I went to visit him several times in the hospital before he died. Each time we left him, we were sure it would be our final visit, but he held on to life with fierce stubbornness. Upon notification of his death, my sister and I drove to the hospital to say our goodbyes. I wrote him a long letter that included pictures of my kids whom he had never met. I made sure he was buried with the letter.

As I watched my father’s dead body get wheeled away, I wept uncontrollably. I mourned the loss of what I never had and began to reconcile the finality of the situation. With my father alive, I had held on to some sliver of hope that one day we might have a meaningful relationship. His death slammed the door on that chance. Anguish rippled through me as I convulsed with tears and despair.

After making final arrangements, my sister and I were emotionally depleted. We did what anyone would do in our situation. We headed to Bakers Square for some pie.

Nestled in a dimly lit booth, my sister confessed that she had gone to see our dad earlier that day. She explained that she’d held his hand and told him it was okay to let go. Heidi added that she loved him and knew he had done the best he could. She left him at noon. He died four hours later.

“Oh my God, Heidi! You’re so bossy that when you tell someone to die, they follow your orders!”

We both burst out laughing. We proceeded to make horribly dark jokes as we discussed funeral plans. Our conversation went something like this:

Me: “Is there a protocol to follow when announcing the death of one’s estranged father? What do we say to our friends who don’t know about our dysfunctional childhood? ‘Did you ever think it was weird that I never talked about my dad?’ And they’d say, ‘Well, it was weird, but it won’t be anymore, ’cuz now he’s dead.’”

Heidi: “Now we have a funeral to plan. I guess we’ll try to put the ‘fun’ in ‘funeral.’ I just saw this movie with the kids called Frozen and there’s this song in it called “Let it Go.” I think that should be the theme song for the funeral.” Heidi proceeded to softly butcher a few lines from the song.

Me: “I’ve never heard of that movie or that song! Besides, funerals don’t have themes.”

I glanced at the check that had been dropped off earlier and blurted out, “Well, since you killed Dad today, I’ll buy the pie.”

Unbeknownst to me, our waiter was slumped down in the booth behind us refilling the sugar shaker. When he heard this, he popped up wearing a horrified expression. This only caused us to laugh harder.

Now, you may be thinking my sister and I are horrible sickos for our behavior hours after our father’s death. I beg to differ. We were both devastated, but laughing was not going to make his death any more or less a reality. It did help to make it more bearable, though.

During all dark times in my life, I’ve tried to pepper my tragedies with humor. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the heartless, inappropriate person who laughs at a funeral. I don’t eat rainbows for breakfast and live in a world of denial, either. I simply think that laughter can be powerful medicine and that life is not meant to be taken so seriously.

After I came home from my 218-day hospital ordeal, my husband threw me a slew of parties to celebrate with friends. One invitation we sent out declared:

If you can't laugh about almost dying, what can you laugh about?
If you can’t laugh about almost dying, what can you laugh about?

Lisa didn’t bite the dust,

So we thought this invitation was a must!

Since she isn’t six feet under,

We were beginning to wonder…..

What are you doing on Saturday July7th?

We hope you can join us for a ‘Lisa Didn’t Die Celebration’

Some friends were amused while others thinly veiled their horrified reactions.

H and L #4
My big sister is my hero.

I could write a hundred pages on this topic alone. I could tell you all about the “Worst Life Award” my husband won from his company the year I was sick. He actually beat out a man with a brain tumor, but that is fodder for a future post. I don’t care if people think my jokes are in poor taste, they’re my jokes to make. I hope to grow old laughing my way through life without apologies!


Read an explanation of my reason for disclaimers here.

I know I just said I’m not going to apologize for my sick humor, but I must state my one disclaimer for this post! I call my sister bossy all the time. A woman whom I greatly admire, Sheryl Sandberg, says that we should not refer to girls or women as bossy. In her amazing book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, Sandberg explains that the term “bossy” is almost exclusively reserved for females. She instead encourages us to say someone has “executive leadership skills”. I’m sorry Sheryl Sandberg, but Heidi is plain bossy. My tiny sister who does not stand even five feet tall has earned the nickname “The Little General” in my family. Heidi, I love you to pieces, and you know it’s true!


  1. As Heidi’s loving husband, I can attest that it’s all true. Little General, indeed.

    Keep eating that pie, Lisa. As you can attest to, life is too fragile and precious to not enjoy even the simple pleasures of life, even in times of tragedy.


  2. Even in the old Petrerson Park carpool days I vaguely remember bossing me around. Thankfully I think she was only telling me were to sit and to be quiet.


  3. Excellent! You had me laughing and crying and laughing again! Thanks for writing! So grateful that you didn’t bite the dust yet.


  4. So great! While my Dad was in the hospital all of us read aloud from the book, “Are You There God It’s Me Vodka” by Chelsea Handler. We were in the ICU waiting room probably horrifying people with our laughter. My dad instilled that sick sense of humor in all of us!


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