Lately I’ve been laughing at things that aren’t funny. And I’m not talking about Dad jokes.
My dad’s favorite joke never gets old.
“You know, in the Bible it says that the man has to make the coffee,” my dad told Jon, my fiancé, the first time they met.
It was Thanksgiving 2014. The kitchen was so clean it sparkled, and the darkness of the night seeped in through the windows. A single light beamed over the coffee maker, as if magnifying Dad’s joke.
Jon was panic-stricken. It looked like he was racking his brain for the book, chapter, and verse that said that, thinking maybe he overlooked something in his many readings of Scripture. Befuddled, the aspiring pastor crinkled his face in confusion.
“Oh, yeah?” Jon said, trying too hard to be nonchalant.
“Yeah,” my dad said. “In Hebrews.”
Not getting it, Jon stared blankly.
“Hebrews,” my dad repeated. “He-brews. He brews.”
Jon relaxed, and he cackled at Dad’s favorite joke. We all laughed together, and Dad was pleased with himself for nailing the punchline.
Those jokes are funny. The ones I’ve been laughing at aren’t as easy to laugh at. These jokes started shortly after Dad’s diagnosis. My mom was the instigator.
Dad would come home and tell her he wanted to buy a new car that drove smoother than his Porsche. The bounciness of the car increased his pain and he needed something more soothing.
“You can have whatever you want for the rest of your life,” she said, making light of his four-month prognosis.
My mom later told me she said that whenever my dad wanted something. A new TV, a five-star dinner, a trip to see me, a back rub. They laughed every time.
It was just the beginning.
Dad started hallucinating a few months before he died. The medications he was on helped with the pain, but had some intense side effects.
Once, we were watching a Nebraska football game and Jordan Westerkamp became a topic among commentators.
“He was the speaker at a dinner I went to once,” Dad said from a bar stool behind the couch.
Jon and I turned around and looked at his skinny figure, hunched over, eyes glazed over.
“Jordan Westerkamp?” I asked.
I knew that my dad, the insurance executive, had never met Jordan Westerkamp in his life.
“Yeah,” he said confidently. He looked at me and blinked, “Wait, am I making this up?”
The look on his face told me he already knew the answer. I giggled.
“I think so,” I told him.
Laughing made it less scary, so that’s what we did.
“Dad, if you’re going to hallucinate, at least ask God to make your hallucinations badass!” I told him. “Like, hallucinate that you’re climbing Mount Everest.”
“Or that you catch the winning touchdown in the Super Bowl,” Jon said.
“Or that you go swimming with sharks,” I said.
“Or that you go sky diving,” Jon said.
We were on a roll. And we kept it going. Best of all: We actually did pray that God would give my dad some cool hallucinations.
A few weeks ago, I was sitting with my friend, Leemah, whose mom died of pancreatic cancer — the same thing my dad had. Her mom lived for two years after being diagnosed. My dad lived for ten months. Both overcame odds. Both went through months of chemo and months of hospice before they died.
We were talking about our experiences having a parent with cancer.
“I feel like I basically went through chemo with my mom!” Leemah said, and we both giggled.
“I swear I lost some hair, too!” I said, and at that point we were hysterical.
I don’t know why we thought it was funny, but I guess it made it better than being sad. And I think that’s the point.
In the same way that you might deal with a fever or a cold with a home remedy, my mom and Jon and Leemah and I have created our own way to deal with loss and tragedy and sorrow. We call it humor — because honestly, sometimes that’s the best home remedy you can ask for.