Aging: Celebrating Elders’ Birthdays–Ideas: To Do and Not to Do (A Once-A-Year Chance) —Also 5/14/2017 update on Elton John and Mother relationship–see “Related” below

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”
(One of the greatest ideas ever.)
“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.  May 14, 2017, click London Daily Mail— Elton wishes his mother (92) Happy Mother’s Day. They’re “Back in Touch.” 
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.

Celebrating Elders’ Birthdays– What They Want; Not What We Want and Why

98th birthday

98th birthday

9 Factors to Consider

If we’re fortunate enough to have very old parents and grandparents who are still relatively healthy, chances are we become involved planning their birthday celebrations.

Sr. Advisor R will be 100 in  September. We are planning her party, again in her home town. There have been various kinds of parties for her over the years–taking into consideration health issues and energy. Indeed many variables that we might not think about become important for elders’ celebrations.


Comfort level
1.  Do they like large (20+) or smaller gatherings?
2.  Do they mind–or like–surprise parties?
Practical considerations
3.  Do they have the energy/stamina for the large party? the smaller? or neither?
4.  Do they wear dentures?*
5.  Can they travel?
6.  How large is the party budget?
7.  Are invites telephoned, emailed, or snail-mailed?
8.  Gifts or not?
9.  What about family members who don’t get along?

The “Whys” 

Many of us, regardless of age, have preferences for small or large parties. Sometimes, especially for milestone birthdays, we think BIG, when small may be better. Yet energy level and health are major factors that can–and should–determine size. For example, Senior Advisor R had experienced pneumonia followed by lesser health issues the winter-spring preceding her 90th birthday. They sapped her strength; she lost considerable weight. Getting back to normal took many months.

Thus she wanted a small dinner party for her 90th birthday in September: 12 family members plus her best friend, at her favorite restaurant. We complied. It was perfect. We followed up with brunch at our home the next morning, as R agreed that the 4 out-of-towners deserved more than a dinner. It felt like a festive weekend on a small scale.

We initially agreed on a large celebration for R’s 95th birthday, but R nixed the idea after we (she and we) compiled a guest list of nearly 100. Instead she wanted to be surrounded by the people who were meaningful in her life (family, her best friend, and certain young neighbors) at a restaurant.

These neighbors know how to help an old person continue to age well. They bring her newspaper to the door each morning; the mail from the mailbox at the street to the door each afternoon; 2 women call ahead each week when they plan to go marketing, inviting her to go with them or have them bring groceries to her. R says she doesn’t know how she could continue to live independently without them. They mean the world to her and, I think, she to them..

The next year one of these dear neighbors–at her home– gave R a 96th birthday luncheon. No present could compete with the genuine love and caring that was evidenced by that birthday luncheon. We took R out to dinner with her niece and nephew the next night. (Only one big outing a day at age 96.)

R’s subsequent birthdays have basically included family members, her one remaining friend and neighbors at a club that has been wonderfully cooperative and attentive. The staff makes R feel very special in just the right way.  The photo above is at her 98th birthday party there.

We will celebrate R’s 100th birthday in September with a smallish birthday party–at the club–inviting 18 family members and possibly one surprise guest. (A surprise we are positive would thrill her.) Because R finds she gets too tired to enjoy herself when she must talk with too many people, she suggested two small parties. In October she’d like a simple, second party–around 18 guests: the neighbors and meaningful others in her life. In R’s case, it’s divide and enjoy.

We realize it’s not about what we want, or we think R would want. Rather it’s about what we know R wants. While she needn’t plan birthday parties any more, she still has definite ideas about what she likes.
*          *          *

Tuesday we focus on birthday party ideas, sharing a sample of past celebrations–some really good, one bad, one….well, you’ll need to decide for yourself.



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