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Heartbreak and Humor

In the last few months, I’ve become one of Delta’s most regular customers. Enough that the flight attendants are starting to joke they see me more often than their own kids.

The recent frequent flyer miles are a result of my sister’s prognosis. “Two to three more weeks,” her neuro oncologist told us eight weeks ago. When your sister is given a timeline like that, you find yourself getting on a lot of planes and cancelling a lot of plans in order to be with your family.

My parents, both sisters and my niece all reside in Omaha, Nebraska. A few months ago, as the brain cancer began to aggressively grow and affect Heather’s balance, coordination and eyesight, she had to move in with my parents. Since then, she’s lost her mobility, her independence, and much of her dignity. She has not, however, lost her fighting spirit or her will to live.

As it would be for most adults, living under the same roof with her parents and depending on them for nearly everything is all at once challenging, embarrassing and frustrating for Heather. When I’m back visiting it provides her some diversion, my parents some extra help, and my older sister a free babysitter. And often, it provides me with subject matter for this column.

My father started hollering at me to shut the door. 'You’re letting the WiFi out!' was his reasoning.

It is no doubt the saddest my family has ever been, or will ever collectively be. We grieve, we mourn and we hope all in the same breath. Then, we laugh.

Perhaps it’s because we are all existing in such close quarters, or perhaps it’s the sorrow of knowing someone you love is living on borrowed time, but either way, we have found a way to amuse ourselves in the midst of our sadness. Admittedly, it’s mostly at my dad’s expense. Though to be fair, he certainly provides the material for the rest of us to joke about. Like these gems:

While visiting last weekend, I offered to go pick up the mail. My two-year-old niece wanted to help, so I stood in the entryway holding the front door open for her. My father started hollering at me to shut the door. “You’re letting the WiFi out!” was his reasoning.

My dad’s lack of any technical understanding is an easy target for the rest of us. (He still uses a phone book and traveler’s checks.) More than once I have said to him, “I know you raised me, taught me to drive, paid for my college and helped me buy my first house. But I’ve had to teach you how to check your email well over 50,000 times. So I think we’re even now.”

This weekend while reading the paper, he looked up at me and my sisters and asked us, “What is a metaphor?”

“Our family is a circus act,” my older sister Michele responded.

He replied, “I know that, but I’m asking what is a metaphor?”

One night we gathered in the kitchen and carved pumpkins with my niece. My dad remarked how difficult it was to use the pumpkin carving kit we had purchased for the occasion. Heather looked at him and said, “Well, it is for ages four and up, so I can see why you’re struggling.”

With three strong-willed daughters and a wife who has mastered the art of a witty comeback, my father is both outnumbered and often outsmarted. But he does manage to best us every once in a while. This weekend we were having a serious conversation about Heather’s health, past regrets and life in general. I asked him if, in the 45 years they’ve been married, he and my mom had ever considered getting a divorce.

He looked me dead in the eye and said, “Yes. But neither of us wanted you kids.”

I suppose of all the lessons my family has learned throughout my sister’s diagnosis, the most important one has to be this: Sadness and humor do not have to be mutually exclusive. It is important to let some light in, even in the darkest moments.

Amy Roberts is a freelance writer, longtime Park City resident, and the proud owner of two rescued Dalmatians, Stanley and Willis. The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer. Follow her on Twitter @amycroberts.