DUNEDIN - During her dental exam Thursday, Nancy Greenberg kept squeezing her hygienist's arm with excitement.
"I was so happy for her," Greenberg said of Debbie O'Shea. "She was so excited about this adventure she was having."
The adventure: a South Florida scuba diving trip. Mrs. O'Shea had recently become a certified diver, a sign she was finally recovering from the pain of losing her husband, Jim O'Shea, 68, to kidney disease last May.
While devastated by the death, things had begun looking up for Mrs. O'Shea.
She started visiting the gym. Her four children were thriving, especially her son, Joe, 22, the Florida State University student body president who was named a Rhodes Scholar in November. She watched him graduate recently.
"She was finding herself again," said Joe O'Shea. "Her own identity outside of my dad."
Her trip began Saturday at 1 p.m. when she and eight other people boarded a Narcosis Dive Charters boat, said Teri Barbera, spokeswoman for the Palm Beach Sheriff's Office.
Two to three miles offshore, Mrs. O'Shea began her dive with her instructor present. She dived about 10 feet deep, according to Barbera, before surfacing with a breathing problem.
Two other divers tried to put her breathing regulator back in her mouth but Mrs. O'Shea kept spitting it out, Barbera said. They inflated her flotation device but she kept deflating it.
She was pulled onto the boat, where CPR was performed. Mrs. O'Shea died at St. Mary's Medical Center in West Palm Beach. A cause of death hasn't been determined, Barbera said. Monday would have been her 54th birthday.
Dr. Larry Lieberman, the Palm Harbor dentist whose office she worked in for more than 13 years, said it was encouraging to see Mrs. O'Shea excited about life again. She planned to go diving in the Bahamas in August.
"She was lit up. It was incredible," Lieberman said. "She was the happiest I've seen her in many years. Feeling good about herself and the exercise and the scuba diving. It gave her something for herself."
Mrs. O'Shea leaves behind a remarkable legacy through her four children. In September, the Times profiled the tight-knit family as the O'Shea kids, all FSU students, coped with their father's death.
All are stellar students. Oldest son Robert, a law student, turns 24 today. Joe flew back Monday from Rwanda. He left only two days prior to build a technical school. He was going to buy Mrs. O'Shea a Mother's Day card from Africa. Their sister, Mykal, is studying to be a nurse and turns 21 Saturday. Jesse is premed and will be 19 on May 23.
"She had every right to brag about them," Lieberman said.
Her character is best understood through her sacrifices, Joe O'Shea said. Mrs. O'Shea worked nonstop to help pay bills, the mortgage and college tuitions. Her hands hurt so much, she wore arm braces at night.
She was remodeling the family's house for visits from her future grandchildren, Joe O'Shea said.
Mrs. O'Shea was a high-energy person who was passionate about everything she did, Lieberman said. Together, Lieberman and Mrs. O'Shea taught seminars.
During her first interview with Lieberman, she promised him if he hired her, she would be the best hygienist he ever had.
"And she was," Lieberman said. "She was incredible."
She approached one of her patients, Jim Bourland, who owns Ocean Sports in Dunedin, and told him of her interest in learning how to dive. She became friends with everyone in the shop, Bourland said.
"She was very proud about how well she was doing as far as her lessons," Bourland said. "Even her instructor was saying how well she had done. We were all excited for her."
The funeral will be Friday at 10:30 a.m. at North Bay Community Church on 3170 McMullen-Booth Road. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Robert O'Shea, c/o the O'Shea family, 2260 Twin Lane Drive, Dunedin, FL 34698, and will be put in a fund for the children.
Tamara El-Khoury can be reached at (727) 445-4181 or firstname.lastname@example.org.