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Take a Tragic Moment, Sprinkle Some Humor, And Shake Vigorously

06/17/2015 01:41 pm ET | Updated Jun 17, 2016

"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 out 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 comedy. Doctors told me I had a rare, disfiguring and potentially fatal autoimmune disease; scleroderma, when I was 10. With that type of diagnosis, I had no choice but to develop a dark sense of 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.

When I was 31, I spent 218 days in the hospital after the birth of my second child. After escaping death by slim margins, my husband threw me a slew of parties to celebrate my return home. One invitation we sent out declared:

Lisa didn't bite the dust,
So we thought this invitation was a must!
Since she isn't six feet under,
We hope you can join us for a 'Lisa Didn't Die Celebration'

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

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!