Friday, February 13, 2009

It's My Party and I'll Laugh If I Want To

Today’s a special day for me. It’s my birthday. And for those who know me, you know that my birthday takes on National Holiday status. I start celebrating it a week in advance. I’ll tell anyone how old I am (44). I plan special things, like the mani/pedi just for me this morning and the Chinese food I’m having tonight for dinner. It’s all about me.

But it’s not a selfish, look-at-me thing, though I do tend to pretend it is. I’ve always liked celebrating my birthday, in the days before the big 2-9. Back then you want to celebrate it – you’re young, probably haven’t had kids do a number on your figure yet, still have the rest of your life ahead of you.

Then 2-9 hits, which is, of course, the precursor to The Big 3-0. All in caps. Everyone dreads 30. Why? I don’t know. I loved turning 30 – as much as I loved turning 15. And 22. And 44.

Here’s why.

Fourteen years ago a very good friend of mine who I worked with was diagnosed with lung cancer. She never smoked a day in her life, didn’t live with smokers… no clue how she got it. Getting the diagnosis started off with, “I hope it’s not TB.” Then that got ruled out and they were looking at MS. So of course, we went with, “I hope it’s not MS.” All these acronyms.

Eventually, her options dwindled and it came down to the big “C.” And how we prayed. Then we prayed some more when it was cancer. Then we prayed it was survivable.

It wasn’t. She was 34, had two little girls and her whole life ahead of her.

So we cried. We got angry. We wrote her obituary. We planned her funeral.

“What?” you ask.

Yes. We did. Together.

Because Kathy was the one who gave me my favorite book EVAH. Jill Barnett’s Bewitching. It’s adorable and funny, and a perfect feel-good book. Kathy loved romance novels. She read them by the dozens and would pass them on to me. She helped me re-discover my love of the genre in a time of babies, and pregnancies and work… and her mortality.

I have to tell this story so you’ll understand how truly funny she is, and how she shaped my world view to allow me to write funny. When she came to my house after speaking with the funeral director she told me that she’d picked out her urn. Kinda morbid, I know, but you either have to cry or laugh. She chose to laugh.

So, I learned from her that the human body can be cremated to fit in either a six-pound urn or a ten-pound urn. She told the funeral director, (and this is verbatim) “I don’t care if you have to throw out a leg, I WILL get in a six-pound urn.”

I’m laughing as I write this, because I still remember how we ended up crying ourselves silly with laughter, the big belly-hurting kind of laugh. Tears rolling down our cheeks, breaths impossible to catch. It was so morbidly hysterical.

When you read the acknowledgements in my first (EVAH) romance novel, In Over Her Head, you’ll know who the KB is. Who my guardian angel is looking down on me. She’d be so thrilled to see Jill Barnett’s quote on my website about me. She’d be ecstatic to see the picture of Fabio hugging me. (She and I went to see him at a local book signing all those years ago.) She’d be thrilled to hold my book in her hands and be the first one in line for a signature.

She’d be thrilled to be turning 44.

So, yes, today is my birthday and I’m going to sing it from the rooftops. Okay, maybe not because I have a range of about three notes. But still, you get the idea. I always say that I don’t mind another candle on my cake… because it means I’ve been here another year.

When I eat my Chinese food tonight, I’ll have my favorite beverage (EVAH) along with it—champagne. And I’ll raise a toast to Kath and remember how I sat in the pew at her funeral, shoulders shaking, tears running down my face so much I had to hunch over so others wouldn’t see.

I wasn’t crying. I was laughing. She got in that six-pound urn.

43 comments:

  1. I went to a happy memorial for a friend, who wanted just that. She wanted to be remembered for being someone that lighted up everyone's lives. So I agree. I'm wishing you a very happy birthday, to celebrate every year and enjoy! :)

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  2. What a touching story, Judi. Hope you have a wonderful birthday and many happy returns!

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  3. What a beautiful post, Judi. It's 8am here as I sit with my coffee - you've given me my first laugh of the day (your friend was very funny) and my first tears. And, suddenly, all of my woes and burdens aren't as dire as they were last night.

    A very happy birthday to you. And thank you for sharing Kathy with us.

    Janet

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  4. Your story made me smile and cry at the same time, Judi. You should sign a book for Kathy and give it to her daughters. I'm sure it would mean a lot to them.
    Happy Birthday!

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  5. Awesome! That's all I can say, and I can't agree more. I stopped crying over my birthdays; it's another year to be celebrated.

    I'll be raising my glass to you tonight too! As the saying goes, it's not the years in your life, it's the life in your years! Salut!

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  6. Happy Birthday! What a wonderful story to share with us. I bet Kathy was laughing right along with you at her funeral. Her sense of humor must have been a wonderful tool to dealing with the awful disease that took her.

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  7. Fortunately, I'm a tough guy and touching, poignant, heart-felt, thought-provoking and inspiring memoirs like this have zero affect on me. It flows over me like champagne in a fountain and slips by me like the breeze…skates like a high heel on a cobblestone.

    That? Something in my eye. Yeah, both of them, what of it?

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  8. HAPPY BIRTHDAY JUDI! And even though it's YOUR birthday, you've given US the most wonderful gift...Your laughter, your wonderful writing, and the memories of your dear friend. Thank you.

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  9. Happy birthday, Judi! What a wonderful legacy from your friend. As I'm closer to 60 now than 50--last year I was dead center--I heartily endorse celebrating every birthday as a marvelous milestone. Besides, it dang sure beats the alternative!

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  10. Happy Birthday Judi. That is a lovely tribute to someone who must have been a wonderful friend. Glad she's still in your heart.

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  11. Happy Birthday, Judi! Great post. You have a terrific attitude about life and friendship.

    Hugs--Adele

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  12. Love that & Happy Birthday! Thanks for sharing! Your friend sounds wonderful and it's sweet that you could share that time together with a smile.
    For years I had the James Dean quote on my mirror: Live each day as if it were your last.
    I try. I started losing loved ones and friends in the 6th grade - to everything, car accidents, accidental gun shootings, heart disease, cancer and even murder. They were all different ages - from 12 to 77. So thanks again for this reminder. Wouldn't it be great if everyone *got it* and treated each other with love and respect because it could be our last day? What a different world it would be.
    hugs-

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  13. Happy Birthday, Judi! Any day you wake up on the green side of the grass is a Good Day. ::grin::

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  14. Happy Birthday and thank you for sharing a wonderful friendship. I laughed at the urn and my eyes brimmed with tears at the loss.

    Enjoy your day and your week!!

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  15. What a beautiful tribute to your friend and to the power of friendship to teach us what's real and what matters.

    I too have had friends who died "out of order," and while I'd rather have them here with me, I'm grateful for the lesson they brought me.

    Oh and BTW--girl, you've got some great writing there. Needs to be published on paper!

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  16. A great story Judi! I think all funerals should be a celebration of a person's life :) Happy Birthday!!

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  17. Happy birthday! It's fitting for a romance writer to have their birthday so close to V day. Enjoy!
    I posted the most romantic photo taken in Paris at my blog today. Might inspire a story ;-) The Boomer Muse AKA Layla Morgan Wilde.

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  18. What a beautiful post. Made me laugh AND cry.

    Happy Birthday, Judi! Hope your day is really, really special.

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  19. Happy Birthday! And what a wonderful, sad, inspiring wake-up call. Thank you.

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  20. Happy Birthday Judi! And beautiful thoughts there, because you're celebrating for your friend too. That makes you very special.

    Linda

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  21. What a beautiful way to remind us that birthdays, like every day, are to be celebrated. When you lose those close to you, you understand the true meaning of time lost and the gift being happy in each moment. Celebrate, Judy! I am honored and humbled that something I wrote touched Kathy.

    Happy birthday to you.....
    Happy birthday to you.....
    Happy birthdya dear, Judddddd-eeeee
    Happy Birthday to U!

    Jill Barnett

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  22. Look at that! I spelled your name wrong. Picture me hitting myself in the forehead...
    I know it's with an 'i'. Rats!

    Forgive me JudI.

    JB

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  23. I had a friend like your Kathy. Funny, outrageous, off the wall, like a sister born to another mother. She left us suddenly, no warning. Supposed to have lunch on our regular Thursday and her hubby called to tell me he took her to the hospital. I get myself ready to go to the hospital, 130 miles away. He calls again. She's gone. Just like that. I spoke at her funeral, teased everyone there just like she would have done. I love my birthdays and toast her at each one. Happy Birthday to you Judi and to your best friend EVAH, Kathy. Sending you a soft cashmere shawl to keep you snug and warm.

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  24. I'm having a fan girl moment! Not one, but TWO Jill Barnett comments! :)

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  25. Happy Birthday Judi. Looks like we have a close encounter with your birthday being today and mine tomorrow.

    Have a great and happy day!

    Simon

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  26. Happy Birthday and best wishes for a great year! Thanks for sharing that story with us. I'm sure Kath is with you in spirit.

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  27. What a wonderful story to share Judi and I'm glad you remember Kathy in your book, a testament to the joys and laughter she gave you. When we read your book and laugh ourselves silly because it's good, AND funny, some of us will be saying thank you Kathy for reawakening the love of romance and laughter in Judi.

    I'm glad you're celebrating life and a new book.

    Happy birthday, my friend!

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  28. True friendship--the greatest gift of all. Glad you had Kathy in your life.

    Happy Birthday, Judi

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  29. I cried as I read your letter...because what Kathy did is what I will have to do...and YOU and Kathy have inspired me to LAUGH instead of cry. I have PPH2.
    PPH has two classifications PPH1 & PPH2, PPH1 is curable and then there is mine PPH2-terminal. Funny thing is PPH is very rare, and they [doctors] are starting to figure out that PPH2 MAY be caused by second-hand smoke. I too never smoked, although I was around it constantly as a child and adult. PPH stands for PRIMARY PULMONARY HYPERTENSION. PPH1 has a cause, ie; liver, kidneys, lungs, spline etc...and can be stopped by surgery and medications. PPH2 has no known cause [yet], so you can't fix what you don't know is broken. Having said that I simply wanted to say Thank you for talking about Kathy and Happy Birthday!!

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  30. Kitty, you will be amazed at the number of people you've touched, and at the number of prayers winging their way to you. You, your family, and all your loved ones are in my thoughts and prayers. And to Judi, and all writers here, a reminder. Words have power. And what more beautiful evidence than this. Peace to you all.

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  31. Judi, I realize I'm over here late today, but it's not too late yet to wish you a HAPPY BIRTHDAY!! What a beautiful story and tribute. I smiled, but with tears. Loss is both individual and universal, and you made me remember those I've had to let go of.

    Kitty, bless you. You've touched all of us. And if you'd like I passel of new friends, I do believe you've got 'em.

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  32. Happy belated birthday, Judi! Hope it was wonderful. Just wanted to thank you for sharing. Your words touched me a great deal.

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  33. Judi, I'm celebrating life with you on this special day. It's so wonderful that you remember the good times with your friend, as well as the somber ones. But don't we all want to leave here having loved and touched others in an uplifting way? She did. And you're proof of that.

    Kitty, may you have many more birthdays to celebrate as well! And may your doctors be wrong, wrong, wrong to their everlasting amazement.

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  34. I think my keyboard is shorting from the tears as I read. Your friend Kathy sounds like she was very special, much like you.

    All the best on your b'day and Kitty, thinking of you and sending you a hug and prayer.

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  35. I never have the right words after posts - and comments - like this one. Thanks, Judi, for writing this, and thanks, Kitty, for leaving a comment. Both of you help to remind us all how ephemeral our lives are. I hope I can take that lesson as all, to live to the fullest and laugh as much as I can, for whatever time allowed me.

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  36. Happy Birthday Judi, your smiles and reminiscences are upbeat and hopeful, just like you.

    Here's hoping for many more years like it for you.

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  37. first off, HAPPY (belated!) BIRTHDAY!!! I'm sorry I missed the day by one! And cheers to you for celebrating--every day is to be celebrated, isn't it? Very touching story about your friend and you should know I especially loved the urn thing--my thoughts were exactly there before I saw that's what she said ;-)

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  38. A day late but not so short in praise for Judi! What a touching tribute for your best friend.

    Sending you a birthday hug!

    Maggie

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  39. Gosh, you went and made me cry. How lucky you are to have had such a friend. Thank you for sharing your memories of her.

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  40. Kitty, I'd love for you to contact me personally. There's a contact button on my website, www.JudiFennell.com.

    Thank you so much for sharing your story.

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  41. Wonderful, wonderful story, Judi! Thanks for sharing it all with us. It helps me remember how truly blessed we all are in even the little things.
    And happy birthday, girl!

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  42. Judi you truly do know the value of a day. Each and every day. A beautiful memory and what a fabulous woman Kathy was and still is, for unless forgotten we are immortal.

    Happy Belated Birthday Judi and many happy returns on the day.

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