Daddy's 77th birthday was approaching. And we siblings knew that due to his advanced Parkinson's, it would probably be his last. Sadness hung over our family like a grey cloud.
Then my sister Carol devised a plan. Daddy had been a minister for 50 years, giving his very lifeblood serving his congregations. Carol contacted four of his churches and asked, Would they send him birthday cards?
Some 70 cards flooded in, along with messages that expressed heartfelt celebration and appreciation. The nurses read and reread them to him. One card included a snapshot of a 45-year-old. "Who is that handsome man?" the nurse asked Daddy. He cracked a knowing smile, as she said, "That's you."
Five days after his birthday he died. How thankful I was for those kudos his people bestowed on him.
Celebrating our elder is a wonderful gift. Even in the face of suffering and death, we can offer appreciation. Here are some of my observations:
1. Celebrate milestones.Birthdays, of course. When Lucie turned 100, her family and the nursing home staff granted her wish. "I want a horse," she'd announced. The nursing home activities director procured a miniature horse from a nearby church camp, and a stuffed pony from a local store. Imagine Lucie's face when the miniature horse appeared before her very eyes.
Milestones aren't just birthdays, though. Mabel's family knew she dreaded moving from assisted living to the nursing home. So they gathered the extended family around in a "blessing ceremony," thanking God for the assisted living room that had been Mabel's home for several years. And they annointed her with oil, praying a blessing on her and the new room.
2. Savor life's simple joys.Celebrations don't have to include ice sculptures or high tea. The main thing is connection. Our family gathers for fresh strawberry shortcake, which in Washington, signals the beginning of summer. Others bring their elder to the dock for the opening of fishing season. And of course, there's baseball, possibly the most senior friendly sport of all.
3. Gather the generations. Aging parents seem to love those great-grandchildren! And there's something magical about the unconditional love kids give back. Those folks in between are enriched by their elders, too.
Despite the circumstances, I want to take the time to celebrate our elders.
What are the ways you celebrate your aging parent?