Family Matters
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The Milestone Birthday

I realize that as it stands now, we have three months and a week to plan this (or not), so it's not like we're in a rush or a panic. But with that said, I thought it might be prudent to seek some outside input about it well ahead of time.

The background: my husband and I have found ourselves in the uncomfortable position of being the only family members left who are still communicating with his grandfather. The reasons for this are many. They have been explained to us by each of the major players in this drama, and it's enough to make your eyes glaze over because it's a metric ton of who said what first and whether they "really meant it that way."

Suffice it to say that if you were to hear the story from Grandpa's side, our brother-in-law's side, and our parents-in-laws' side, you would understand that each of them have very good cause to be angry and hurt. I can certainly see all angles of it. However, I also think the whole thing is basically a waste of everyone's time and energy because life is all too short. But perhaps that's only easy for me to say because I'm on the outside.

My husband and I wish that everyone involved would bury the hatchet, but stubbornness runs deep in this family, so realistically we only see it ending in one of two ways:

1. sooner or later, Grandpa will pass away; or
2. when my husband and I have kids, the whole clan will want to see them, so everyone will be on their best behavior at least in their presence.

And now our dilemma: Grandpa is turning 80 this fall. Under normal circumstances, this would mean a big party. Family friends and other relatives have had big parties for their major birthdays and anniversaries. But with the way things have been going, we're fairly certain that no one is lifting a finger to plan anything for him, and that makes us sad. Yet on the other hand, we're hesitant to try to plan something big for him ourselves, because due to their age, Grandma and Grandpa have seen a good number of their dearest friends pass away. These are the friends we would have invited.

Of their friends who survive, some have significant health problems, others live out of state and cannot travel, and we lack the contact information for the fraction who remain local and healthy. Then of course there is the family - who have cut off all contact with Grandpa, as I've stated above.

Doesn't sound like much of a party atmosphere, does it? Yet we sort of feel wrong not to at least try to do something special. But at the same time, we worry that a party or any attempt at a party would just call attention to the void that's left in the wake of their dwindling friends and the family cold shoulder.

So what are the good grandkids to do?

Re: The Milestone Birthday

  • Why do you need a birthday party?  Why does anyone NEED an 80th birthday party. I think you think this is a necessity- it is not.  You are not in the circumstances to throw one.  Go spend the day with him- buy him dinner, presents, whatever.  Do what you want to do, but don't include anyone else.

    I do not get along with my grandfather.  Him being 85 years old does not change the fact that he's an asshole and an alcoholic. I would not attend a birthday party for him.  Don't throw one if there is so much family drama.
  • who are YOU to decide what is a "waste of everyone's time and energy?"  How dare you decide that whatever the reason is, is not big enough to truly demand these actions?  

    Stay out of the family situations.  If you want to celebrate with this man, then YOU take him out for his birthday and be done with it.  

  • Ouch! I feel like I set up and then stepped on a land mine.

    It's true, nobody "needs" a birthday party at all; it's just that my husband and I feel bad at the thought of him being left alone that day. So thank you for your honest input - you're right that it likely wouldn't be a good idea to go for anything huge. We will likely just make arrangements to have a nice "double date" with him and Grandma, since his birthday is also their wedding anniversary anyhow.

    And for what it's worth, I have not interjected myself into the family situations. I have not given any family members my two cents because I know very well that it wouldn't be my place to do so. Part of the reason they all blew up at each other in the first place was because Grandpa and Brother-in-Law had an argument, and the parents-in-law stuck themselves in the middle of it because they didn't approve of the way that these two were going about making up. This made things worse between everyone, rather than better, and now nobody's happy.

    So believe me, I know that no good could ever come from trying to force any reconciliations between people. That certainly was never the intent behind thinking of something formal for his 80th. (BlueBird actually hit the nail on the head when pointing out that it's something I felt was needed, rather than what was actually needed - it's a combination of a sense of guilt, and an expectation based on the fact that most other folks in the family have had similar things done for them.)

    My husband and I are the listeners on the sidelines. We've heard everybody's side of the story on what went down, but we keep our opinions to ourselves. I figured that an internet forum was a better place for me to state a bit of what was on my mind, rather than in person where doing so could seriously hurt loved ones' feelings and further damage relationships.
  • Instead of a birthday party, do this:

    Make up a fantastic scrapbook fort the both of them!

    Call and write or email the friends who are left and ask them to send a short note with some memories of Grandpa (and Grandma, if applicable).

    Have them write the letters/notes on one page so that you can paste them into a scrapbook -- include old photos --- I am sure you have many.

    Include something fun from the year he was born --- 1934 --- what movies were tops, what songs were hits, what movie stars were hot --- I can name Carole Lombard and Myrna Loy.

    Find something from his high school on --- maybe his yearbook is there.

    "Borrow" his yearbook on the sly and make copies of photos in there; put those in a scrapbook too.

    Limit the "party" to a few select guests; have a cake and music and fun.

    That is what I would do.:)
    Wife Kitty
  • PS: I cannot stand milestone birthday parties.

    Perhaps for a 16 year old or 15 year old and then maybe 21.... after that, forget it.:)
    Wife Kitty
  • Ah ha! Thank you, Tarpon, for the terrific scrapbook idea! I don't know why that didn't occur to me earlier, as I do like to make scrapbooks and the grandparents really like sharing photos. :)

    P.S. I like milestone birthdays myself, but then again, I like birthdays, period, and I know not everybody feels that way. My husband doesn't much care for celebrating his own birthday so we keep things low key for him - but he knows I really like to do something for mine so he's always very sweet to me.
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