A good friend in her late 80’s said to me recently, “Once you are over 80,
you should celebrate every birthday with enthusiasm!”
"Once you are over 80, you should celebrate every birthday with enthusiasm!" Wise advice which I think can be taken to heart for every birthday, but more especially those birthdays where a family member has reached the grand old age of 90 or more. Each year is precious, and our elders become more treasured with each passing year.
And so, I encourage you to embrace these opportunities to celebrate life, to celebrate milestones and to share happy occasions with family and friends. To not only have a party, but to share stories and poems, singing and music to honour the life and deeds of the person while they are still with us.
Since becoming a celebrant, I have had the privilege of officiating 90th birthday parties for both my parents. My dad – Ian, who recently turned 95, continues to live independently since being widowed. My daughter summed it up in a birthday post on Facebook when she said, “Poppa, you still drive, fly, and take road trips. You are a true inspiration tome and everyone who knows you.”
It seemed, after three years of limited occasions, due to Covid, that Ian’s 95th offered the perfect opportunity for a PARTY! Friends and family were invited, and we celebrated in style with some 60 people - immediate and extended family, friends from Dad’s village community, along with members of his Church community. A family of six children, there are three siblings remaining and my dad’s two younger sisters were both there, as was a very old friend of my Dad’s – they have known each other since they were four!
I hope through this blog, you can see how a party can become so much more with the use of structure and the inclusion of well-chosen elements which help to portray the story of a person’s life. I opened with a welcome and used Ian’s recent classroom visit to bridge the gap between then, Ian’s early years and now.
A recent road trip saw Dad and I drive from Christchurch to Nelson stopping in with friends at Springs Junction. Whilst there, Dad and I visited a classroom of eleven students (ages 6 & 7) and Ian got to be the ‘Show and Tell’ feature for the day. I shared with the children how we had gone to Masons Flat (just out of Hawarden) the day before to see the blacksmithing and engineering workshop where Ian and his sisters were sent for holidays. The original building and house were gone but there was still an engineering workshop onsite and a noticeboard explaining the history of Masons Flat. Dad remembers going out with Uncle Jim in the 1924 Studebaker Tourer todo a range of tasks. Uncle Jim was the man in the community who knew how to do everything from shoeing ponies and Clydesdales to fixing farm equipment and helping with animal care.
I talked about the long drop toilet being out the back yard (no indoor toilets back then) and explained there was no toilet paper. The children were horrified to learn that squares of newspaper were cut up for use. Say no more!
Ian explained to them that there were no fridges, washing machines or TV’s and about the shared party telephone line. He also shared with them about boiling the copper to do the washing and filling the indoor bathtub for his sisters’ baths – he got to go last. He told them about biking 10 km to the freezing works to buy half a sheep; and how upon returning home with the three pieces of meat, he had to saw some of it into chops before putting it into the meat safe. The children’s curiosity was endless and they came up with a great many questions including:
Well not telegrams exactly, but emails and social media messages offered a chance for those who could not attend to express their memories and best wishes; and these were read out. This one describes Ian perfectly!
Dear Uncle Ian(technically, first cousin-once-removed-in-law). Hearty Congratulations on your 95th birthday!
While not spending a lot of time with you, you have always been a part of my life. You have been an inspiration to me, in your fierce, constant, and practical love for your family and others, your wide range of interests and talents, and sheer determination to make the most of life, no matter the obstacles. Through loss and many changes, you have remained positive and continue to draw and share strength with your awesome family.
Best wishes. Binnie.
And this, from Cousin David, who together with Ian and his oldest friend Paul did a cycling trip on fixed gear bikes to Fiordland in 1949.
Cousin Ian, I will never forget the three weeks you, I and Paul had together in December1949, the various places we put our heads down for the night, slogging up Lindis Pass and the wonderful venison we had with a deer stalker in the Eglington Valley - after being denied purchase of food at Cascade Creek. I can't recall an upsetting word or action on the demanding journey. Tarras-Cromwell Road was like a riverbed and our fixed gear bikes were not a great help!
My sister shared a poem she wrote. Here are some selected verses.
My dad at 95 can still drive
In his Suzuki Swift, he’s pretty swift and smart
With BFFs Carole and Jill and also with Phil
My dad goes to Cafe‘s for coffee
And I suppose they set the world to rights
And follow that up with movie nights
And being part of the village newsletter team
And organising markets to fund raise for the dream machine –
To make coffee of course
Dad is all for keeping well,
There’s the doctor’s visit, the dentist, the cardiologist, the audiologist, it’s quite a list!
You are family and friends from near and far
You offer love, joy and friendship to Ian - he is lucky to have you all
So, to all those here, we thank you for coming along.
Let us celebrate Ian’s 95th birthday with song… Happy birthday to you ….
And of course, Ian had a right of reply and expressed his
thanks and appreciation to all who came!
And of course, no birthday is complete without a scrabble cake. You picked it - Ian is a devoted scrabble player and has a long running competition with my sister. This amazing scrabble cake was made for her Poppa by his grand-daughter Sophia.
And before we cut the cake, I blessed the food with a new grace; somewhat different to the familiar one we grew up with ‘For what we are about to receive ….’
I love the smell of tea-time; I love the taste of food.
Like God said when the world was made, it’s all so very good.
So now that we’re together, forget dreams of being thin.
For the goodness that’s around us, will fill us to the brim!
Sourced from ‘Before This Meal: 101 Graces to go' by James B Lyons & Josephine Gorman (Sisters of Compassion,2020).
This very special 95th birthday party was an occasion to cherish. The structure of welcome and introduction,
messages, poetry, speeches, singing and cake cutting gave a focus to the gathering with friends and family
enjoying the opportunity to socialise, both before and after.
Let's celebrate all those special milestones! Easter saw me celebrate my Dad's 95th birthday with family and friends and it was an occasion to remember. In this blog, I talk about how you can use structure to create a ceremony that will be meaningful and memorable. Of course, my recommendation would be to use a celebrant, who will bring that extra special something to the occasion.
April 18, 2023