Thursday, December 13, 2018

Marking Senior Milestones

Most kids can’t wait for their birthday – parties, birthday cake, presents, what could be better!? As we move into adulthood each year seems less important, often less recognized. Milestone birthdays may be acknowledged and celebrated with a party, a trip, an adventure long desired. Then suddenly we find ourselves in that period of our lives where every year seems significant again. 

Different cultures throughout history have a variety of ways of venerating, caring for, and sometimes ignoring senior members of their community. China, Japan and Korea respect their elders and treated them with reverence since ancient times. Some cultures attribute special powers to seniors. The Huaorani of Ecuador believe elderly shamans have magical powers. 

In ancient Egypt sons were expected to care for family tombs. Reaching 110 was considered the reward for living a balanced and virtuous life. I have no documented evidence to back up my assertion, but would guess very, very few (if any) men or women attained that honored age. Life expectancy was about 40 years of age and less for women, most of whom succumbed in childbirth.

And what is ‘old’? In New Guinea, 50 is the magic age. The United Nations classify the elderly as 60 and older. In the U.S. a senior citizen is defined as 65+. 

Today many of us enjoy reaching senior milestones and celebrate the accomplishment. There are others, however, who wish to ignore the reminder that they are getting old. I consider them fuddy-duddies. Note to stick-in-the-mud geezers: Enjoy yourself!

A couple of months ago my sons indicated they wanted to throw a party for hub’s 70th 
birthday. A surprise party. I agreed and undertook the planning. After all, they would come – not an easy feat, one family flying to Philadelphia from Vermont and the other from Florida.

The event proceeded without a hitch. Family and friends converged on an Italian restaurant in Philadelphia. Completing arrangements over the phone, it was a question whether the occasion would succeed – the venue, the food, the surprise. Happily, the birthday boy was shocked to see friends and long-distance family converge for the event. The food was excellent and plentiful, the staff attentive. Folks enjoyed socializing in a lively atmosphere. The grandkids had a great time annoying the bar staff with requests for ‘concoctions’ – non-alcoholic drinks of their own invention.

As we age it seems more and more of our friends have health issues, minor and major, and these problems become a drain on our time and energy – doctor’s visits, procedures, rehab, recovery, medications. It is especially nice, therefore, to get together for happy occasions.

But sometimes gatherings are more somber. Hub and I attended a graveside funeral two days after hub’s party for a 98-year-old woman, alert almost to the end. A Holocaust survivor, she arrived in the U.S. at the age of 19 and built a new life, working in the garment district in Manhattan (one of her dresses intended for Marilyn Monroe), getting married, raising two children, involved in volunteer activities. Although a sad event, it was an occasion to reminisce and honor a courageous, strong woman.

The following day we visited our niece, an exhausted Mom, and her 10-day-old baby boy. 

Life’s milestones celebrated, honored, remembered.

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