The Birthday Party
This week I had one of the most moving moments in my professional life.
I work in Geriatric Psychiatry. As part of my job, I facilitate 2 groups on Positive Aging.
Last week, one group began with a patient sharing that it was his son’s birthday that day.
What emerged was that this was his anniversary of becoming a father. A seminal moment in anyone’s life.
So, I decided to do the group on “what do birthdays mean to you?” And on, “how do you celebrate your birthday now, compared to when you were younger?”
Then, I added to the mix one of my favorite questions, “how old are you chronologically?” And, “how old do you feel inside?”
It was a fascinating discussion.
Many of the patients shared that birthdays were not that important to them.
As they are aging, the group members shared that they are challenged by many health conditions.
Consequently, the patients feel more and more that they appreciate the gift of being alive each and every day.
Everyday is special, not just their birthdays.
Many in the group also shared that as children, they did not have a lot of material wealth. So, gifts and parties were not common.
But, one particular patient, Bob, shared that he never had a birthday party. No one in his family ever acknowledged or celebrated his birthday.
Although all the other patients voiced that birthdays were not as important to them as celebrating life — I think the thought that someone NEVER had a birthday party really touched them.
One patient, Henri, responded to Bob, “we need to celebrate your birthday. Next week, I am going to bring you a cake!”
Henri also asked me to remind him about his commitment when I saw him during the following week.
Although I did remind him, just in case, I brought in cookies, happy birthday napkins, soda and other paper goods to work for the group as a backup.
It turned out to not be necessary.
When I walked into the group room, I saw that everyone in the group had brought in something to celebrate Bob’s birthday!
The group bought a card, 2 gifts, drinks and a birthday cake! They even bought a candle and sang “happy birthday” to him.
Since birthdays are about sharing good wishes, I also asked my patients, “if you could have anything you want, what would you wish for?
Here is a picture of their responses:
It gave the patients great pleasure to give and support each other.
Truly, this was a touching and heartwarming moment!
The funny thing was, I told this story to my friend, Adelle, on my way home from work. Adelle then said, “you know, today is my birthday too!” An example of positive aging, Adelle proudly turned 70 on the day of Bob’s birthday party.
And now, today happens to be my birthday as well. I do not publicly admit my age. But, inside, I tell everyone that I am 87.
(I then remind them to tell me “you look great for your age!”)
In the Jewish tradition, a birthday is a propitious day for giving blessings to other people:
May we all be blessed with love, health, material satisfaction, friendship and peace, and many happy birthdays.
*In order to protect the privacy of my family, friends and patients, please be aware that their names and personal identifiers have been changed.