Did you ever wonder what people would say about you at your funeral? Would they be respectful? Funny? Matter-of-fact? Irreverent? Mom may outlive us all; but she had the pleasure of hearing what people thought of her anyway.
Her 80th birthday party was in the planning for months. My sister, brother, his wife and Lisa and I had monthly planning meetings via Skype and VSee. As the day grew closer, the meetings became weekly. Together, we hatched a plan which would bring many of Mom’s intimates together to celebrate her life-thus-far.
Now, I’m guessing that some of you are experienced party planners, so you know well the logistics involved. Challenge number one: identifying the intimates. I’ve been collecting contact information from my parents and by other means for years and thought I had a pretty good list at 70 entries. Not even close! Before it was all done, 183 people (some of them couples) were fully sussed out. That number would have been higher, but some are no longer with us.
Challenge number two: delegation of tasks. It made sense that I – being local – would handle things on the ground. But my siblings stepped up from their far-flung locations to contribute mightily to the effort. We live in an age when distance truly doesn’t matter. Invitations were conceived, created and mailed by Elizabeth. Michael prepared a moving PowerPoint tribute-in-pictures.
Challenge number three: bringing it all together. All of the prior planning was intended to make things just fall into place and, for the most part, things did exactly that. It was a busy time, nonetheless. We secured the main dining hall at Piedmont Place. It seemed better there than anywhere else. Chairs, catering, cakes, balloons… We had the room for three hours total: thirty minutes each for setup and teardown; two hours for the party. And the party turned out just great.
Close to a hundred people came from up and down the eastern seaboard: New Jersey to Florida. Elizabeth drove down from Maryland. My son Jeremy flew in from Oklahoma. Michael & Joy came in from Germany, and their son Milton flew up from Brazil. Between invited guests and family, I calculated that a total of 26,000 miles round trip – almost the circumference of the earth – had been traveled to join in the festivities.
And the theme of the day was “Honor.” In the runup to the day, I’d heard from so many of Mom’s friends. “I’m honored to be invited.” “I am honored to know your mother.” “I’m honored to be considered her friend.”
We created a program wherein each of us three kids would pay tribute to our mother. Michael’s was a perfect table-setter. Elizabeth talked about the values and manners Mom had placed into us. I had a few words of my own, and then had the privilege of leading the room in a rousing “Happy Birthday to You”. Even Mom shared a few thoughts and words of appreciation for everyone gathered.
But I think the highlight of the day was the time given to our guests to share their stories. One after another, they came to the mic and spoke lovingly of the inexhaustible effort, fervent prayer, and endless hours on the telephone invested in them by our mother. To a person, they thanked Mom for the enormous contributions she’d made to their lives. Many of these words were spoken through tears.
Now, a week later, Mom’s room is still festooned with colorful bunting. She is moved to speak about her many encounters with loved ones at the party, and of her life-long experiences with each of them.
Truly, hers is a life well-lived.