Some older adults I know profess a lack of interest in celebrating their birthdays in any significant way. This attitude may come from their feeling that there’s not much to celebrate once you come to a certain age plateau. So it could seem pointless to observe a birth anniversary—“It’s just not that important how old I am.” Other possibilities: Not wanting others to make a fuss about you, or not wanting loved ones to go to all the trouble of putting together a celebration..
On the other hand, some older adults may also harbor feelings that help them welcome life-enriching birthday celebrations. They may still want to be remembered fondly, if only quietly. Their daily lives may fit the maxim, “The simpler, the better,” so they may not want large displays of emotion, over-the-top activities, grand gifts or extensive programs. They enjoy the company of people they love.
A celebration doesn’t necessarily have to be a party. The festivities can be low-key, the merriment short and sweet, the activities memorable, the gifts small-but-cherished and the guest list small. Heartfelt emotions—especially gratitude for life itself—can be shared with the Birthday Person. Fond memories and hopes can intermix so that the past, present and future are all marked with joy.
Here are some ideas about honoring older persons on their birthdays. Perhaps they might fit your situation!
Think about the foundational reasons for a birthday celebration.
What do you hope to accomplish? What makes this particular birthday meaningful? What memories do you want to evoke or strengthen? Who else might benefit from this event?
Consider “surprises” carefully.
Check with family members whether a surprise might disrupt the schedule or sensitivities of the honoree. Soften the suddenness of a surprise in small steps—an ordinary lunch features a special menu; special guests drop in for a conversation, pre-arranged birthday cards form a slow avalanche of best wishes.
Good gifts contain good thoughts.
Many older adults don’t really need more stuff. Instead, you might give experiences—tickets to an event, a special walk, a short excursion. Younger children can create thoughtful gifts. Small, useful items—bud vases, frames for photos, a fashion accessory, a keepsake photo album or scrapbook, a special book or writing instrument—can be easily absorbed into the honoree’s home space and lifestyle.
Celebrations can be spiritual.
The spiritual significance of a birthday can include gratitude for life; being surrounded by love; remembered blessings; the faith witness of a person’s life; prayers for the future and the meaning of joy.
Several smaller celebrations can be strung together.
Where appropriate and possible, it might be possible to observe a birthday as a succession of typical birthday activities. For example: Ice cream and cake one day, with present-opening the next. A third event might be opening and reading cards OR telling stories of birthdays past. That could be followed by pre-arranged phone calls or SKYPE visits. A fifth event could be a capstone observance—a walk, photo session or favorite meal.
The honored older person might want to give gifts!
Depending on financial circumstances and stamina, an elderly person could decide to give birthday party participants a small gift that has distinctive meaning. This might be a special plant, a treasured family artifact, a shared experience or mini-adventure.
In whatever shape or size, a birthday observance can add an exclamation point to the story of a beloved elder’s life. Because it’s the thought that counts, this event could offer life-enrichening attention, lingering pleasure and the gift of gathered regard and love.
Perhaps you know of other ways to enjoy older birthdays? Other celebrations that may be fuss-free, ageless or spiritually fulfilling?
I thought so…!
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