A reader writes:
My cousin is a life-flight nurse, and previously was an EMT and paramedic. My wife is a hospice social worker. Both therefore deal with life-and death-issues every day. The humor in these professions is very dark and often tasteless. My cousin says that not only do EMTs and paramedics joke, so do emergency room nurses and doctors. My wife regularly says that people would be horrified if they heard about how nurses and social workers joke about their clients.
But they all acknowledge that it's so hard to deal with these issues that they need some sort of humor to handle it and thus joke about what makes them most uncomfortable.
So to the reader whose family joked while losing his sister wondered, "I don't know if this is how it normally goes," from what I've heard it's pretty normal among people in professions who must regularly handle such loss. That his family responded this way makes perfect sense.
I spent many years working evenings and nights as an X-Ray Tech. When there was a code in the ER, I would go there to be there if I was needed. I used to judge the chances of the patients survival by the amount of laughter in the cardiac room. The more laughter, the less likely the patient would survive.
My theory is that the staff was defending themselves from facing their own mortality. The more hopeless the case, the more aware they became of their own end. The person whose family joked at the sister's death bed were just doing what we humans do when facing the awareness of our own inevitable demise.