Happy 37th Birthday, Julia

Today would have been Julia's 37th birthday.

Julia's birthdays were complicated affairs in our house. In more years or not, there were usually tears, followed by the joy of tacos and beer. If she cried at all in a year, it was always on her birthday. For a reason unknown to anyone, Julia always was afflicted with the birthday blues.

In the weeks leading up to Julia's birthday, she'd tell us she wanted to do nothing and wanted nothing for her birthday. She just wanted the day to pass quietly by. But when the day came, and we hadn't injected any surprise or break in the mundane, she'd be devastated. Absolutely gutted.

When we say that Julia was complicated, this is what we mean. She could be fickle and indecisive.

 Julia's 35th birthday. A small family dinner of tacos and party hats.

Julia's 35th birthday. A small family dinner of tacos and party hats.

 

Julia spent the last birthday of her life in the hospital. She was 10 days past her stem cell transplant, on a feeding tube, waiting for her new cells to engraft. She tried to find the positive, but she truly was miserable and in absolute pain.

The one thing she wanted for her birthday was something we could not give. 

Do you know that refreshing "ahhh" sound you make when you swallow a glass of water? How amazing it feels when the cold water hits the back of your throat? How a dry mouth turns moist and your body feels entirely refreshed?

That's what Julia wanted for her 36th birthday. She wanted to be able to swallow one sip of water.

Only her entire mucoscal digestive tract from her mouth to anus was in shreds from her second round of induction chemo (MEC protocol) and her transplant conditioning (BuCy protocol). She tried all day long to drink water just to get that feeling.

There would be no birthday tacos. There would be no creme brûlée. There would be no cala lilies. There would be no people other than her mom and myself to wish her a happy birthday in person because she was confined to a hospital bed, entirely vulnerable, as she had no immune system.

I showed up at the hospital with a slice of watermelon cut in the shape of a birthday cake, a candle, and hopeful that she could suck on the cool juice. After water, that's what she'd been craving. I wanted to bring her some happiness, but I knew we needed to get the requisite birthday cry out of the way. 

Instead of bringing her joy, I brought her tears she needed to cry. And after that birthday cry, all was good in the world again. 

 In patient at the hospital on the eve of her 36th birthday finally having figured out a system to deal with mucositis.

In patient at the hospital on the eve of her 36th birthday finally having figured out a system to deal with mucositis.

 

On Julia's 37th birthday, she had planned to have her celebration of life. We were going to have a big party for her.

Julia had accepted that she was going to die. She always said that grief was more about the people around the bed than the one in it. She didn't plan to be in a bed. But she did thoughtfully plan to usher others through their grief while she was still finding joy everyday and breathing. She also wanted to hear all of the nice things people would say about her that you normally miss out on because you're dead. 

Life doesn't always work out according to plan.

Instead, we're celebrating Julia's life without her. We're having dinner at a restaurant on her top 10 list of places to eat at without her. We're honouring her memory.

Happy birthday, my love.