“Today is my birthday,” I repeated cheerfully. It was like I was six or four rather than sixty-four.
Throughout that day, though, my sixtieth birthday kept coming to mind.
That was the birthday I spent at the New Jersey Shore, watching the sun rise over the ocean, waiting for dolphins to swim by and taking stock of my life. I was caring for my friend Jim, who had brain cancer. We had come to the Shore a few days earlier, the day after we learned Jim had a blood clot in his left lung.
This was three months after Jim’s cancer diagnosis. He had already spent six weeks in the hospital—surgery, recovery, rehabilitation, another surgery….When finally released, his mantra was “No more hospitalizations.”
Then one day, he started having trouble breathing. A trip to the ER confirmed a blood clot. Jim refused to be hospitalized, and so a nurse taught me how to give him injections of blood thinners. We had plans to leave for Ocean City the next day and Jim would not change our plans.
His oncologist was adamant that Jim be hospitalized, even warning that Jim would die without hospitalization. “Then he will die at the Shore,” I said with more bravado than I felt.
Jim had always loved spending time at the Jersey Shore. The peace and quiet suited him. He was okay to die there.
So I called the funeral director and relayed the oncologist’s warning. He gave me his cell number and told me to call if needed.
And off we went.
The drive to the Jersey Shore had always seemed smooth, but Jim’s blood clot revealed every bump in the road, every uneven seam between lanes. His face was set in a grimace the entire hour and twenty minutes; shallow gasps of air accompanied quiet moans. I was terrified that he would not survive the drive.
Things got worse after we arrived. Jim could barely walk and each step up the steep flight of stairs caused excruciating pain. He collapsed when we got inside and hurt too much to move.
But the next morning, Jim got up and dressed without help. He had no pain and was breathing easily. Either the blood thinners were working or it was a miracle.
“Now I know that you will never take me back to the hospital,” he said.
“I won’t,” I assured him.
“Now I can live,” he stated with conviction.
All that day, he observed how the Shore was better than the hospital: “You don’t see the sun rise over the ocean in the hospital….you don’t see dolphins in the hospital…You don’t get wine with dinner in the hospital.”
We stayed at the Shore for several more days, and each day Jim grew stronger.
When the dolphins swam by on my birthday, Jim said, “There are sixty dolphins singing happy birthday to you.” It was so sweet, and now it is a happy memory.