“Happy Birthday To You…”

It is not my story to tell.  In truth, I wasn’t even there to witness the scene I am about to share.  It was relayed to me not by the person who was a party to it, rather someone she shared it with who, in turn, shared it with me.  This happened several days ago, but the degree to which it has stayed with me and tossed around in my head brings me to this, my need to share.

On a mid-week night, in a neighborhood restaurant one step above an Uno’s or Not Your Average Joe’s gathered three generations of a family to fete their mother/grandmother on the occasion of her birthday.  They were a rowdy bunch, reveling in being together and marveling at the advanced age of the matriarch of the clan.  They drew attention to themselves throughout the meal, talking a little bit too loud, laughing a smidge too hard and, from what I have heard, oblivious to the fact that they were not in the comfort of their own home but were annoying to their fellow diners.

As the meal progressed they became more rowdy and less aware of their surroundings.  Other folks out for a (semi) nice meal flashed dirty looks and sighed heavily in hopes that they would send a message to the large group…to no avail.  Resigned to the fact that they would have to endure their meal amid such commotion, they ignored them as best they could, trying, instead, to enjoy their own companions and meal.

The sounds of the table were soon interrupted with the arrival of a birthday cake, seemingly engulfed with the resultant flame of a billion candles, and the wait staff’s half-hearted rendition of the birthday song.  And then it happened.  No sooner had they reached the “to you” part of the song when the guest of honor dropped dead in the cake.  Boom.  Just like that.  She didn’t pass out, or take a nap…no, she up and died.  In the cake.



Now, I will cop to initially finding this simultaneously horrifying and hysterically funny.  My mouth dropped open and my hand came up to cover it, as if to suppress my less than sympathetic response.  My G-d…what a way to go!

Later that evening, I was out to dinner with friends at the Cheesecake Factory.   Having just heard the story while driving to meet them, I shared it and they, too, responded with a mouth agape, hand-to-cover response and (slightly uncomfortable) laughter.  Apparently, The Cheesecake Factory is an enormously popular birthday dinner spot as evidenced by the fact that as we dined, we counted no fewer than half a dozen renditions of the song which will forever be aborted at “to you” in my head.  Each time the first notes rang out, our table grew silent as we anticipated a thud.  Fortunately, there were none.

Ever since hearing this story and conjuring up a vivid image in my head, I have not been able to stop thinking about it.  I find it to be so many things: horrifying, crazy, funny, unbelievable, frightening and awesome.  But mostly awesome.  I mean, really, think about it.  Yeah, it is really shitty for the family (here’s hoping their dinner was comped) but what a great way to go for grandma.  Surrounded by her family who were so caught up in the happiness and fun of the evening (well, the start of the evening, anyway) that they were utterly unaware of their surroundings.  Everyone was, by all (well, most) accounts having a ball.  The last thing she heard was “to you”, the last things she saw was a beautiful cake( in, no doubt, her favorite flavor),  the last thing she felt was love and the last thing she did was play a starring role in a great story.  Not so bad, actually.

So, on this, the eve of my (not a big one…yet) birthday, I think of the nameless woman who left this world in a dramatic, but all around pretty cool way.  Her’s is a story I will continue to recall and, in all likelihood, share.  I was not there for it.  I did not experience it.  But it will stay with me.

And, while I hope this is not the year I drop dead in my birthday cake, I can actually think of worse ways to go.


17 thoughts on ““Happy Birthday To You…”

  1. Jules…a number of years ago( wow…19..it happened 2 weeks before my eldest was born..who is 19 now)…my aunt had moved to florida to retire and was building her dream home in Bonita springs…they had the house almost done and were at the club having dinner and then dessert…and just after dessert..she dropped her head onto her chest…yes she died then and there…she was with her husband, had built her dream home, had her ‘last supper and dessert, and died peacefully…no pain, no suffering..she was in her late 60’s at the time…not a bad way to go…her family wanted to remember all her happiness and didn’t want to find out the cause of death….so always eat cake and order dessert!! xoxox love laura

  2. Julie, your first four paragraphs build the suspense so beautifully that nothing could have stopped me from having to find out what was about to happen. And when it did, I reacted as you did – horror at my laughter…it must be a universal reaction to such an unlikely story, beautifully told. Thanks.

  3. Hi Julie,

    This is George, the retired elementary school principal. I have written a note or two before to you and Jessie.

    I, too, hope that I am fortunate to go this way too someday…..surrounded by, enveloped by, and immersed in the love of family and best friends. In addition, with a tasty cake to fall into…..it would be “frosting on the cake” so to speak!

    Knowing me and my own sense of humor, I’d then be floating above the table and laughing so hard that my sides hurt…..assuming I still have sides on the other side!

    Again with my strange sense of humor: If I know that my time to go is imminent…..put me in a canoe with a case of superb, peaty Scotch and a box of great cigars (don’t forget the water- proof matches, please) and wish me Bon Voyage ! 

    I hope that you, Jessie, and your family are well.

    Best Regards,


  4. Julie, my mother did much the same thing… she was all dressed up and ready to go to a Christmas Eve party, then sat down, slumped over, and died just before she and her friend were heading out the door.

    At the ripe old age of 87, we daughters felt very fortunate she didn’t suffer in her last moments. And she always feared being bedridden. I call it an answered prayer, myself. I figure if St Peter had come down and offered the contract, she would have questioned the date for a minute, then signed without hesitation.

    Great story, and I’m with you, sister… I can think of much worse ways to go.

    Best, Sue

  5. Hi Julie
    Another great story told with compassion and humour.

    Thank you and have a fantastic birthday.


  6. What a beautiful story. Tragic, yes. But such a perfect ending to a life. I can’t imagine a better way to go. Thank you for sharing it.

    And happy birthday!

  7. Julie, i have missed your posts.ni hope that you are just busy being the fabulous mom to Jesse and Harrison and that nothing untoward has occurred.

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