by Elaine Voci, Phd. Certified Life-Cycle Celebrant®
In my profession as a Celebrant, I have the privilege of bringing people together and finding unique ways to inspire and sustain an authentic and mindful human community. The tools of my trade are creativity, personalized ceremonies, lyrical language, prose and poetry, respect for individuality, open-mindedness, and a commitment to weaving meaningfulness and purpose into events that align with my clients’ values.
When a client called, a year in advance, to talk about her 70thbirthday, and said she wanted to celebrate that special transition with her adult children and grandchildren, I was delighted. We first spent time talking about her philosophy of life, and how she views her role as an elder in her family and in society. Based on her values and beliefs, we then chose some special ways to mark the occasion that felt congruent to her.
Birthdays are actually interesting cultural events. Some people see them as dreaded reminders of time passing and growing older. Our culture pokes fun at aging, partly based on a fear of growing old, and a party can be created complete with black armbands, gag gifts to emphasize the losses of aging and darkly humorous birthday cards that play on becoming decrepit, cranky, sexless, and old. While it’s all meant to be humorous, there is a subtle message of despair being sent that increasing age will bring isolation and sadness.
Others see a different opportunity when a birthday rolls around. They see a chance to celebrate life and being alive. In the face of all the random things that could go wrong, to be able to get up every day with gratitude in your heart for being alive, is reason enough to feel happy about getting another year older! My client saw it that way, so we began considering ideas that would be fun, meaningful, and creatively appealing.
She fell in love with an idea to pay all the expenses and take her family on a weeklong vacation in Florida at an all-inclusive resort to celebrate her special day. She spent the year preparing for the trip during which I helped her…
- Create a personal remembrance book for each of her grandkids in which she described her hopes for their lives, how she felt when she first held them in her arms as infants, and some of her favorite memories with them.
- Craft a special family gathering for one night during the vacation that the kids are still talking about 3 years later.
- Order balloon bouquets from the hotel, bottles of champagne for the adults, and bubbling grape juice for the kids
- Present each grandchild, one at a time, with their own book, telling stories to them in front of the group which brought tears to many eyes, as well as laughter and smiles prompted by some of her recollections.
- Lead her kids and grandkids in playing a game of competition we created in which she asked the “family teams” questions such as “What ingredients go into the meatballs that Grandma makes that you love?” and “Who is Uncle Fred to Grandma?” and “What school did your parents attend when they met?” and “Where did your Mom grow up?”
By taking intentional actions and making the birthday trip memorable and meaningful for herself and her family, it brought her a deep sense of satisfaction and provided a family memory that is now a legend and remembered fondly as their “favorite vacation”.
As a Celebrant, I think that the opportunity to grow older and to age well is a wonderful privilege worth celebrating. After all, none of us is assured of longevity. I enjoy helping clients discover all the ways they have to make their birthdays unique and to take nothing for granted. We are all growing older every day, and the process of aging is itself something of a miracle for which we can all be grateful.