Posted by: Abe's Blog | June 9, 2010

When I Die

My wife threw me a surprise party on Saturday for my 40th birthday. I’ve already written about my trepidation of passing this milestone. I know, I know, 40 isn’t “old”, but it has become a time of reflection and re-evaluation for me–a time when I am coming to grips with the insanely furious pace of time and realizing that the next 20 years may go even faster than the last! A quarter of my life was spent in anguish. I’ve had to financially reboot from ground zero at least three times during these last 20 years. As I have been approaching 40, I have been becoming increasingly obsessed with the idea that I must “get it together” financially as I have only about another 20 years of working to do before I retire. I’m even reading financial “self-help” books, a genre that I have always been irritated with.

My wife threw me a surprise party. She doesn’t know it, but I am beginning to think it changed my life in a way.

No one has ever given me a surprise party before. A year ago, when I turned 39, I joked with her, “You better give me a big party for my 40th.” She took this to heart and began planning. Several times since then she has asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday and I said, “I just want to go camping. Something quiet.” She knew better. She planned and secretly contacted family and old friends of mine using deviously ingenious sleuthing techniques. She rented a banquet hall in a local church. She made decorations, planned the food, games, props, and organized everything. She did this in secret while working, taking care of our rambunctious boy, and putting up with me, even ignoring my whining rant about her having to “work” the day before my birthday. (This was actually the day of the party and her “work” involved her getting up at 5:30 am and leaving to get the party organized). I’ve since apologized for my idiotic buffoonery.

She kept this party under wraps. As my family and many of my friends were privy to the secret, she did an exceptional job of keeping it secret. I received only two clues that there was something going on, including my seven year-old’s proclamation that he knew a secret that he couldn’t tell me, which is that I was going to have a surprise party at the Oakland Church the next day. I told him to quit telling me and he explained to me that he hadn’t told me anything because it was a secret. He doesn’t quite understand the concept.

My knowledge of the party’s occurence did not diminish the surprise. I did not let my wife know that I knew what she was up to, and she came home from “work”, told me to get in the car and drove up the road telling me she wanted to look at some property (I tried not to smile at this one). Suddenly, she jerked the wheel into the church, and I looked up to see a crowd of people standing on the steps, wearing party hats and blowing party favors.

As I began to focus on the faces of the crowd, I began to cry. I am a sap as it is. But I saw people who I would never have guessed would be at a birthday party, including a man who was a dear friend and the drummer of the band in my youth (a man I have not seen in over 20 years) who I had recently been reconnected with through Facebook, a college friend who had driven over 3 hours with his children and pregnant wife, a past employee and his family, my mother, step-dad, sister, and both of my twin brothers–one of whom flew up from Riverside, California to attend my party, and my oldest son who lives 100 miles away and whom I have not seen in quite some time, in addition to my wife’s family and some of our local friends.

As it isn’t manly to cry and I am a very manly man, I snuffled up my tears and hugged all of my friends and cried again. We went inside the church to a beautifully decorated banquet hall, filled with balloons and a table laden with grub, and I wandered from table to table in a bit of a fog. At first, I felt embarrassed. I knew that it was no small thing for most of these people to have gotten to my party–these people who had driven and flown so far to spend just a few hours with me. But eventually my guilt and embarrassment was replaced by something else; something more wonderful.

As we played a game where I was forced to sit in a chair in front of everyone and guess whose memory of me was being read off of a card while my wife stuffed giant wads of bubble gum in my mouth and everyone laughed at me and the children waited to see if my face would explode, I began to see what a wonderful thing was happening to me, and my life began to change a little. Here were these happy faces, all looking at me with care and love; here were these thoughtful people, who thought that I was important enough to put down their busy lives for a day and travel such a distance to see me. Me! I began to wonder why they would do this and began to see things from their perspective. They cared about me. Although I had gone years with limited or no contact with some of these people, here they sat to celebrate my life and to help me to move over the trivial hurdle of my 40th birthday.

I began to realize that I had been focused on the wrong things. Yes, it is true that I have about 20 years to come up with a retirement plan. Yes, it is true that after the recent economic crash, I am starting over financially in many respects. Yes, it is true that I am responsible for my family and their future well-being. But there are more important things. As I sat, surrounded by the love of friends and family, touched by the dedication and thoughtfulness of my wife, bathed in the smiles of those who gathered to celebrate me, I realized that when my life is over, this will be the most important thing–the legacy of my life.

I realized that I want to continue to live and celebrate my life and pray daily that my life is a positive light to anyone that I come in contact with. I realized that what I want is to continue to live a full and joyful life, full of laughter, wonder, and joy, and to someday lay my grizzled head back on a soft pillow, surrounded my those who love me, and be content with the life that I lived. I want to pass on as a very old man, knowing that at my funeral, people will travel from miles away to celebrate my life and to stand and to say, “I knew this man. He touched my life and I am better for having known him.”

This is how my wife’s surprise party changed my life. She does not know this, though I will try to explain. She is a beautiful woman with a humble heart and a grounded sense of the world. I am proud to share this life with her.



  1. What a wonderful day!

    May you have many, many more! 🙂

    • Thank you so much, Roger.

  2. Happy Birthday, Abe! Congrats on the big 4-0 milestone. The odd thing I’ve found about this decade is, when someone asks, “how old are you?” it often takes a few seconds to remember. I think I’ve just stopped counting.

    • Thank you, Betty. I’ve been so concerned about it that for the past year I have kept forgetting that I wasn’t 40 yet. I will take your advice and stop counting…and then I will start counting backwards 🙂

  3. Awe..that was beautiful! If you get stuck for words to express to her how that party changed your life…just print out your blog. It’s perfect!

    • Thank you, Nadia. Yeah, I’ve asked her to read it. She knows how sappy I am, and I’ve told her how much it meant to me, but I hope she reads the blog 🙂

  4. Abe, this type of blog is my favorite to read! I have been pretty bummed out that my 38th birthday is only a few weeks away. The doom and gloom in me says I am getting to old, fat, and bald to have any fun any more. take care buddy and happy birthday.

    • Thank you, Thomas. We just have to learn to celebrate our baldness, fatness, and age! I know you have much to be thankful for and I appreciate your comment.

  5. Oh WOW!

    What a great post, it was so nice to read something this sweet when I came home from work tonight, thank you for sharing it – and HAPPY BIRTHDAY!


    • Thank you, M.L. I’m glad you enjoyed it. I enjoyed writing it, though for some reason I was crying like a baby the whole time 🙂

  6. Only a good man would have taken that lesson from the party, Abe. It’s no wonder everyone went to all that trouble. Happy Birthday man!

    • Thank you, sir. Kind words from another good man are always appreciated.

  7. Wow Abe… Happy Late Birthday first of all. I wish I had known. What a blessing for you and what a blessing you are… in all of the lives you touch. Honestly, I wish I could’ve been there to celebrate you too because in the short time I’ve known you, even just here in cyberspace… you have been a blessing to me too. I really enjoyed reading this. Thank you so much for sharing your special day with us here. You truly are a man worth celebrating. This made MY day 🙂

    • Thank you so much, Suz. It’s been a rough week, so I really appreciate these kind words!

  8. Happy WAAAAY belated birthday, Abe. This is wonderful story, and your wife is obviously a gem of a woman for having set it all up.

    Despite the tears (ew), you are obviously a good guy to know – as evidenced by those friends of yours. 🙂

    • Thanks, Wolfman! I’m not really a cry-baby. I only cry over important things, like the tragic twists in Disney cartoon movies.

  9. It took me awhile to find time to read this. I’m so glad I finally did. What a beautiful story all around. Happy Birthday!

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