How could we possibly celebrate this special day? The Thread of Curiosity passed through my thoughts one morning: “Why don’t you ask Mom what she wants for her birthday?”
Milestone birthdays…16, 21, 30, 40, 60…are indeed special. There is usually a part of us that really looks forward to one of those, and a part that may resist. I guess the exceptions may be the 16th and 21st ones! Otherwise, I often hear people dreading how old they are getting. As my dad often said when asked his age, I’m celebrating the 2nd anniversary of my 29th birthday… again! I’m talking about a man who was in his mid-nineties.
Planning the Big Day
Last year my brother, Dan, and I were already brainstorming about a significant celebration for our mom’s 100th birthday. August 5, 2020. We had plenty of time to create a magnificent party. If there is a milestone birthday, that is surely it. What an amazing accomplishment to live that many years, and in my mom’s case, with the mental and physical stamina to declare it was only the 2nd anniversary of her 29th birthday! Dan and I wanted it to be a wonderful gathering of her family and friends, especially since she lost my dad three years earlier.
We had a problem, though. My mom didn’t want anyone to know she was turning 100! For the six years since she had moved into an independent apartment in a senior community, she avoided the often asked question about her age. She had an understandable belief that if people really knew how old she was, they wouldn’t think she had the energy or thought capacity to hold a meaningful conversation. As I get older, I can begin to see how that belief is born. Even so, Dan and I had a different belief: If people really knew how old you were, they would be astounded by who you are and what you do. We couldn’t convince her otherwise. So that would be a challenge in the party planning.
When further prompted to change her mind about letting people know her upcoming birthday would be her 100th, she compromised by suggesting that it was really the people in her senior community that she didn’t want to know. So family and outside Park Place friends were acceptable guests for our party! OK, the plan for a big celebration was back on. And plan we did. Live music with Big Band songs, food catered in from a favorite restaurant, rental of Mom’s beloved historical building in her hometown—it was getting elaborate and brought anticipation and energy to both Dan and I.
And then Covid-19 arrived five months before our expected celebration. We waited and hoped that surely in five months time, our world would be safe again. Plans would be be back in place. The party would go on. But it did not. The closer we got to August 5th, the clearer it became. Mom could not leave her facility to go anywhere with anyone or she would have to be quarantined with family somewhere outside the building. They were allowing her three hours each day to be with two family members in her apartment who could safely answer Covid exposure questions.
What Does Mom Want?
How could we possibly celebrate this special day? The Thread of Curiosity passed through my thoughts one morning: Why don’t you ask Mom what she wants for her birthday? Hmm…that was a different idea! Ask her what she wants instead of trying to figure out what we wanted to make her feel loved and celebrated? And so I did.
Mom’s response was immediate and simple:
I would love to just have you and Dan come and spend the day with me. And maybe friends and family could send cards with stories or pictures of memorable times we’ve had together.
You know, I get tired more easily as I get older, and big crowds and a lot of talking gets hard for me. I prefer to spread out my visiting so I can really enjoy each conversation.
That was the solution. That was something we could do. I immediately sent out an invitation to have loved ones “join in” the celebration by sending cards, photos, stories, and words of celebration. Dan and I brought in food from her favorite restaurants for breakfasts outside on the patio and dinners in her apartment. We spent several hours, masked up and socially distanced outside, enjoying the pile of old-fashioned mail that arrived—Mom’s favorite gift. It was a perfect two days.
When I called several days later after returning to Minnesota, Mom said she was “overwhelmed with joy…it was a perfect birthday”. I know she really meant it. I felt absolute peace as well, knowing that my Thread led to a milestone birthday during Covid-19 that couldn’t have been experienced in a more perfect way. Only God and His prompting through this Thread could have possibly led to the peace and joy we all felt.
While we stayed true to our promise not to reveal her age to Park Place friends, the word got out. Staff and residents were winking at Dan and me as they passed by, indicating they knew. Everyone knew.
And they still include her in their wonderful community at Park Place.