Birthdays & Anniversaries

When anniversaries or birthdays approach someone who is dying, the tension in the room grows. It’s often one of the first things family members tell me, “You know her birthday is this Tuesday, you don’t think she’ll make it till then do you?” or “His son’s birthday is in a week, I hope he can make it past then” The sense is, the death date is so etched into memory, even more than birthdays, and no one wants to share this date with the dying.

Of course, statistically it is very rare for someone to actually die on their birthday or anniversary. In fact the odds are less than half a percent. But this last week I had two people die on their anniversaries. Both approached it with that same dread. One was a young mother who’d been married 17 years. When the day arrived her blood pressure had dropped to 60/30. All of us, along with her family tried willing her to survive the day, but she didn’t.

The other woman was older. It was her 25th wedding anniversary. Her husband had wrung his hands and paced as the days grew closer. Against the odds, she too, looked to be actively dying the morning of her big day. The day went on and family gathered, but I knew with certainty she’d not make it.

At 3:27pm her heart stopped and she took her last breath as her husband kissed her for the last time. The chaplain came to comfort him, and as they talked the chaplain asked, “At what time of day were you married?” The husband stopped, looking at the clock, “Our wedding began at 3:00pm” and then as if reality of the events finally struck him, tears began to fall and he continued, “Our wedding was only 25 mins long, and 25 years ago to this moment, I was kissing my bride for the very first time as her husband”

She had promised him days before that she wouldn’t die before their anniversary. She was right to a degree. But what are the odds that she died not only on the day, but at the moment of her first married kiss?

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