The Ultimate Challenge: Laughing at Mortality

HeavenI was abruptly awakened at 3:10 A.M. to the sound of a painful cry. A gut wrenching cry of a soul that no longer can stand his predicament, a cry of misery in the pit of man. It was a sound I have been hearing for the past three months ever since my dad came back to live with me and was told he had only three months to live. My dad is dying of cancer – he is in the fourth stage and on a hospice program where they only do pain management.

I groggily got up out of bed and through the crack of the bathroom door I could see my dad kneeling over the toilet. I asked if he was okay, a ridiculous question under the circumstances, but sometimes I, even being a comic and a fast talker, am at a loss for words. He just cried, “I’ll clean it up.” Then I saw it, a splattering of bodily waste all over – everywhere. I was mortified, but had to get a grip. “Okay, forget it, Dad. Let me get you cleaned up and tackle the bathroom after.” There’s a delicate balance you have to strike when a person’s dignity is on the line. There was a situation, a very awkward one for both of us, and I had to take control.

I cleaned my dad up, and put him back in his bed. Then I tackled the bathroom. At that moment I thought “this is disgusting!”. After a few minutes, my years of positive training slowly seeped in. I can really choose to think about this anyway I want. I love my dad, he’s sick, he can’t help it. Instead of feeling sorry for either of us, I thought how can I see this in a funny light. Now to those of you who aren’t used to looking at things from a comedic point of view, this could seem cruel. But at any moment in time, we control how we view a situation. We choose to react happy or sad. It was now 3:50 AM, I had to get up in three hours and here I was on my hands and knees scrubbing the floor. So I started to do what any “sane” person would do, I sang, “Just whistle while you work.” Anything to try to make myself laugh. Then I pictured a bunch of Disney characters coming out of the woodwork with clothes pins on their noses. Strange, yes, but whatever works to change your mindset is fine.

Then I thought. “Wow, this is the literal translation of s*it happens.” I bust out laughing. After everything was cleaned up, I went over to my dad who I knew was feeling pretty miserable and told him what I was laughing at. Instead of crying, he started to laugh too. Then he said, “This is our final adventure together, let’s make the best of it.”

My dad has always been the macho strong type with a great sense of humor. Over and over again, I’ve heard him say, “If I lose my sense of humor, shoot me.”

When my dad was first diagnosed with cancer and had the chemo treatments, he’d walk around with a lollipop saying he was Kojak. Then he bought a Chia pet to see whose hair would grow back faster. He cheated and won.

It is easy in times of happiness to find the laughter in things. But in times of sorrow, it really takes all your will to turn the situation into something that can put a smile on your face. It also takes bravery from the mocking of poor souls who won’t understand you laughing “at a time like this”, and mistake you for Kathy Bates.

We face challenges everyday. Sometimes physical, sometimes mental, sometimes emotional. But the hardest challenge, the ultimate challenge is to put yourself on the line when no one else is watching. When you are alone in the solitude of your room, you know how you react to things. At those moments when you are not being judged by anyone but yourself, can you find the laughter? Can you see the cosmic joke? Can you handle it without a valium?

I break down and cry just like anybody else, but I also try to find the humor in the situation, I dare to find the humor in a situation when I can easily justify feeling sorry. The great thing though is, so does my dad.

Death is not easy to face, even though there’s no getting around it. Losing a loved one is rough. Watching them die is even rougher, since you feel so helpless. I could have choosen to put him in a home, but he wanted to be with his family when he died. I don’t blame him. Even though he is not scared to die, even though he has made his forgiveness with everyone, he still doesn’t want to be alone the final hours. Watching all this puts you smack in touch with your own mortality. Watching all this makes you realize how important your loved ones are. Take the time to spend with them. It also dares you to evaluate your life. Are you living all the moments to the fullest? Are you making the most out of your short time here? Or are you sweating the small things and worrying if your red boots match that red purse?
I challenge you to live every day as if it’s your last and someday you’ll be right. My dad and I have a deal, that he’s gonna build a nice big house for us in Heaven, and if all goes according to plan, eventually we’ll meet him there. We joke about the kind of materials and unions heaven might have. All I know is that the day dad dies, I’m gonna give him a hammer and the best powertools I can buy.