Saturday, April 6, 2019

How To Celebrate A Milestone Event For Your Elderly Parent

This past January, my Dad celebrated his 90th birthday. It is quite a milestone for anyone and it was no different with him. He has lived a lot of years and has seen a lot of things in his lifetime. One thing he would tell you is how far the world has come in terms of technology and how wealthy our country has become. He was just a little boy in the Depression and although he was still young, it was extremely hard on him. His Dad was like a lot of folks during that time. They owned a nice little farm in rural Utah, but they just couldn't scrape together the money to pay the property taxes and so they lost the farm. It was such a blow to him at that young age.

For several years, He often went very hungry, at a time when he needed to eat in order to grow. He remembers eating oft-boiled bone broth made of one potato if they were lucky. Once a year they might split an orange for a special treat. Somehow he survived, but he was never the same care-free child he was before the Depression. He grew up quickly. From that time forward, everything he did was influenced by those early hardships. He was gone and out the door at 17 years old, working on huge ships, delivering cargo all over the world as a merchant marine.

As his 90th grew closer, I knew I wanted to do something special for him, something that was different from the normal birthday cake and dinner get-togethers we have with the family. Those events are always nice, but this called for something a bit different.

This is what I know about people who are getting up there in years. As their faculties diminish, their world shrinks as well. My dad used to be so involved in a lot of interests, helping people, and got enjoyment out of all of it. But as his hearing and short-term memory have decreased, and since he lost my mom 10 years ago, he really doesn't get as much enjoyment out of things as he used to.

The parameters of  his circle of influence and interests have shrunk quite a bit in the last 15 years. He still drives, but just to the grocery store, and a few other places that are very close by. He seems to have all he needs with the Turner Classic Movie Channel, the daily news, and some favorite dishes that he likes to make for himself, along with the occasional lunch date or treats brought to him by his family.

But there is one thing that he always gets enjoyment from---memories of the past. He loves reflecting on the many things he has done, and talking about them to anyone who might give a listening ear. So, given that enjoyment, I thought why not bring one of those memories to life in the form of a skit?

Choosing The Event 
I recommend that you choose a past life event that is something already well-known to most of the family. It will be easier to put together. It can be humorous or serious, you know what your parent will love the most!!

I chose one event in his life that had significant impact on me and meaning to him. The time was when he was serving in the Korean War. It was then that he came to think about religion and what it meant more than he had ever previously thought about it before. He became close with a group of servicemen who belonged to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was so impressed because they were happy, cheerful and didn't curse, smoke or drink. He even asked them why they never came with the rest of the recruits to party in town. The answer they gave impressed him greatly. They said, "We're happy doing what we're doing! You don't miss what you never had." He decided to hang around with them more often to see what made them tick!
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In a strange turn of events, instead of being sent to Korea like the rest of the recruits, he was sent to Austria, Germany to help in the U.S. efforts to build up Germany after WWII. The people there were still  struggling and were desperately poor, as he soon learned. 

Being no stranger to hunger and poverty himself, he felt great empathy for the people there. While serving there, he was still involved in learning what it meant to be a follower of Jesus Christ. The small congregation had nowhere to meet, except in the top floor of a bar. They agreed to clean it, so they could meet there on Sundays. It was a temporary arrangement that left a lot to be desired. While he was there, the small branch of Saints got word from Church Headquarters in Salt Lake City that they would be able to have a building if they could pay 1/2 of the cost. There was a small glimmer of hope--but not much-- because of the poverty of the members there. 

Long story short, my dad decided to take the money he had been saving for a few years in order to do some traveling after his tour of duty, and instead, donate it to the small branch there. It was quite a significant amount in that time. Because of that donation, and other smaller ones he made after that, the members were able to get their chapel in Salzburg, Austria.

Keep It Simple
I wrote this skit, keeping it short and simple and making it easy for many of the family members, especially his grandchildren, to participate in. I wrote out a master copy and then provided separate parts for the rest of the cast. Since this story is familiar with most of the family, it wasn't hard to memorize parts, etc. 

As the big birthday celebration approached, invitations were sent (I love the convenience of Paperless Post), food was made, quick rehearsals were done, and people gathered. All in all it was such a success! We had a photographer there on hand to document the festivities. The dinner was amazing, the cake was impressive and the attendance was great. Everyone was excited!

Finally the time for the skit arrived. We used a karaoke mic and some simple props. Even though it was a serious topic, there was a lot of laughter because of the acting. The grandkids made it so funny! Let it suffice to say that when my Dad realized what we were doing (I had kept it a secret), nothing else was needed to know how much it meant to him. His laughter and tears said it all.


Elizabeth said...

Helen, this is so beautiful! Thanks for sharing your dad's story and your great tribute! I am feeling super blessed this morning : )

A GAL NEEDS... said...

I'm so glad!