Aging: Celebrating Elders’ Birthdays–Ideas: To Do and Not to Do (A Once-A-Year Chance)

My mother didn’t want a birthday celebration. We complied. It just occurred to me: I can’t ever remember there being a birthday party for her. I think she didn’t want a “fuss.” I wonder if she didn’t want to discuss her age. (She looked younger than she was–died 2 weeks before her 89th birthday.) Being a far-away-living child, I made a card, sent a gift, phoned–we were all happy with that and I never regretted it.

Dad, on the other hand, enjoyed celebrating so we chose destination birthday celebrations.

Las VegasFortunately my parents could easily travel. I planned every birthday celebration and my brother was happy to have me do it. We 5 (Mom, Dad, my brother, my husband and I) enjoyed action and entertainment at his 75th in Las Vegas.

Dad’s 80th was a change of pace at the beach: La Jolla, California. We 5 (plus Sr. Advisor R) travelled again–enjoying beautiful scenery, the San Diego Zoo, Wild Animal Park, great food. And one of my best friends since first grade, who of course Dad knew, (and her husband) invited us for drinks at their home (a surprise for Dad), then joined us for the birthday dinner. Dad’s 85th, in Arizona, included those who were at his 80th plus my college best friend’s parents (who my parents got to know well during my college years). 10 adults total.

Dad’s 90th birthday was a larger celebration–around 30 people from “back in the day,” in Arizona again. Weather perfect in March. The same 10 adults, plus relatives who flew down from the NW, enjoyed outdoor dining; and another best friend from grade school joined us. This was the “big deal” party. And here’s Dad, preparing to cut his birthday cake inside. Couldn’t chance a bug getting to it before Dad!

Dad's 90th

The cost of destination celebrations does, of course, vary. Dad’s side of the family is large and some of my fondest childhood memories are of the adult, no doubt inexpensive, birthday celebration-picnics for all-age family members.They were sort of pot-luck, as I recall, sometimes at a city park, or one of the 2 amusement parks in town (now gone) that had picnic tables. Us kids/cousins could make noise, run around and have real fun. (I’m guessing the adults enjoyed watching us.)

                                                  Surprise Parties

A friend, Kathy, whose judgment I value highly, reminds me that surprise parties can be highly problematical. She has never forgotten a surprise party she attended as a young adult for a woman in her 80’s. Kathy also reminds me that in those days 80-year-olds were OLD.

This woman was reclusive, with health issues. She had a husband (octogenarian)–and a grown, unmarried daughter, the latter deciding a surprise party was in order. My understanding is that the woman’s husband thought it was a bad idea; the woman didn’t like going out–even without knowing there would be a party. The daughter was insistent; the party was held–with all the “bells and whistles.”

At a certain point the birthday woman excused herself and went to the ladies’ room. After a while, when she didn’t come back, someone went to check on her. The next thing Kathy remembers was the ambulance coming, taking the woman away. She died–either in the ladies’ room or on the way to the hospital.  ‘Nuf said about surprise parties.

                                                  “Shot-in-the-Arm” 100th Celebration

I previously wrote about taking a woman who enjoyed her “drink” and who I’d known since I was 9, to a popular restaurant-bar for her 100th birthday lunch. Check it out, if you haven’t read the post or don’t remember. It was wonderful, memorable and she loved every minute for several reasons. I think the primary one was that she was doing something normal, that she did when she was younger, but wasn’t part of her life any more. Her kids had a lovely, big party for her the next day; but I know our little outing was like a “shot in the arm” for her.

                          Unexpected Celebration Events: Try to Avoid

Candles spell out the traditional English birt...

And then there’s the gentleman whose family gave him a big birthday party, complete with a big sheet cake all decorated for his birthday with a shiny icing and 89 candles.

When he opened his mouth and drew a big breath and began to blow the candles out, his dentures flew out of his mouth and slid across the icing. The gentleman was mortified; left the party and wasn’t seen again that night. (Honest! Couldn’t make this up–nor would I.)

Being mindful of the 9 points listed in the last post would, I trust, have averted the surprise party and denture disaster. And isn’t a surprise guest an excellent alternative for those who would hate a surprise party?

As we continue our commitment to help parents age well, birthdays give us many options–only limited by our good sense–for adding stimulation and joy to our elders’ lives.

Related:“Celebrating Elders’ Birthdays:What They Want, Not What We Want”
A 100th birthday luncheon at a Bar
“Two Great-90th-or-Younger-Birthday-Party Ideas”
“Sarah Jessica Parker’s Mother’s 75th party”
Elton John’s mother hires Elton impersonator to entertain at her 90th birthday party 
because Elton wouldn’t attend
The Best, Most Meaningful Birthday Celebration for an Elderly Woman (96) I’ve Ever Attended

“Newsworthy” (right sidebar) links to timely information and research from top universities and respected professionals, plus timely tips–to help parents age well.

4 thoughts on “Aging: Celebrating Elders’ Birthdays–Ideas: To Do and Not to Do (A Once-A-Year Chance)

    • I’m glad I found–and removed– this from my spam. The comments of the two elderly people confirm–once again–the importance of family. It’s a heads up for those of us with older family members, as we try to help parents and elders age well.

  1. Susan, you are so right about the surprise parties. In my line of work as a home health aide I have experienced a number of negative reactions to surprise birthday parties. Something more subtle and more “planned out” seems to be a better choice when planning a birthday party for elderly people.
    I love your posts, please keep up the good work!

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