Forget the ‘tombstones’ and go with a favorite theme on your birthday

Dawn Keeney (right) runs an event planning business with the help of Damon Garner, event director. They say to go with a favorite theme when planning a party.

Celebrating your birthday never goes out of style.

“I don’t think there’s ever an age to stop celebrating,” says Dawn Keeney, owner of Unforgettable Service and Events. “Every birthday that you’re alive is a reason to celebrate.”

Considering how our society has become more mobile and spread apart, families gathering for special occasions proves ever more important. Not only that, but in our world full of hardships and tragedies, taking time to gather and celebrate life is so valuable — especially the older we get.

“The landmark birthdays will always be important, the decade birthdays,” says Damon Garner, Keeney’s event director. “As we’re getting more disconnected it is more important to celebrate these (elder) birthdays – it’s time to gather your families that are now far-flung.”

But leave the jokes about too many candles on the birthday cake behind.

“Our society’s view of age is very different than it was 30 years ago, maybe because of stereotypes,” Keeney says. “But now, we just don’t see that.”

It wasn’t that long ago that society deemed 55 years as the crossover to those senior, retirement years. She attributes this shift in our society to how people are taking better care of themselves, marrying and beginning families later, being more active and working longer.

Thus, Keeney says, calling someone “over-the-hill” is “going out of style. The over-the-hill, the black, the tombstones — I think that those have all gone away.” Instead, theme parties are much more popular.

Rather than focusing on age, Keeney and Garner work with their clients to find a theme that fits the individual.

“We threw a ‘welcome-to-the-‘70s party – everything was disco and plaid polyester outfits,” Garner says.

He works with clients to bring out ideas and considerations many people might not think of on their own, proving that celebrating a birthday can be fun at any age.

He’s heard a lot of reasons for creating a unique birthday memory. When one daughter told Garner she wanted her mother to feel special, Garner responded by asking, “What did your mom like?”

As it turned out, the mother, who now lives in a memory care facility, had loved Elvis Presley. As part of the party planning, Keeney found an Elvis impersonator to join the party, and it turned into a joyful event, not just for the birthday girl, but for all the residents and staff at the facility.

“Those ladies may struggle with day-to-day memory,” Keeney says of that event, “but man, do they know who Elvis is. I was sure we were going to lose some underwear at that party.”

Another daughter brainstormed with Keeney to plan her mother’s birthday celebration, also at a care facility. They decided on a “fiesta” theme because of the woman’s heritage. The party came complete with Spanish cuisine, maracas, party beads and a mariachi band.

“Most of those care facilities are in residential neighborhoods and the mariachi band started playing as they exited their car,” Keeney says. “And so, they’re playing as they’re walking down the street to go to the care facility. That’s pretty crazy actually.”

Another party held in a care facility was themed “Blue Hawaii,” complete with cuisine, leis, palm trees and, of course, Elvis.

One benefit of using a party planning service is that family members can fully enjoy the party and not worry about the work involved.

When hosting parties at care facilities, Keeney says she often hears from staff members that they appreciate not having to do all the work for the party.

“We work with the facility to determine dietary needs,” Keeney adds, attributing to their ability to think through all accommodations. “Some people think their only (cake) options are Costco or Safeway. They don’t know they can add just $5 more and have one of our vendors make them a custom cake. People don’t realize there are so many options out there.”

And all price points are considered.

“Our expertise is, we can throw just as cohesive and fun a party with stuff from the Dollar Store, Walmart or Target, as we can ordering linens,” Garner says. “Because, really, the reality is the situation, the environment, the party itself, does not lend itself to the higher-end stuff.”

Every client, situation and budget are different. Keeney enjoys finding the right solutions, whether her company’s role is limited or extensive. They have planned parties recently, costing anywhere from $200 to $18,000.

“We are a concierge-style coordination company, meaning we tailor our services to what the client needs,” Keeney says. “So as an event production company we have the skills, the training, the ability and the resources to do everything start to finish — staff, decor, everything, 100 percent.”

They also offer their services on an hourly fee. Some clients, for example, may only need a licensed bartender or food servers. Yet, Keeney reaps a lot of satisfaction by serving an event from start to finish so everyone is free to enjoy.

“Because we know we can take a lot of the stress off them,” she says, thinking of the family members.

Sure, there are those rare individuals who truly do not want a birthday party and unfortunately, would not enjoy one.

“Every family knows if that person wants to be in the limelight,” Keeney says, understanding how some individuals may not be socially inclined, be it for personal or health reasons.

Nevertheless, most would enjoy any opportunity to celebrate with loved ones.

Although many individuals express how they simply don’t want others to fuss over them, the reality is, they would warmly welcome a gathering of family and friends should the occasion arise.

So, for those who would enjoy the get-together, go for it.

People may run short on ideas for celebrating birthdays, especially for those senior golden years which may pose some limitations.

“Some people just don’t know what’s available,” Keeney says. “I don’t think it’s a lack of desire or lack of interest in celebrating, I think it’s a lack of people understanding or knowing what they can do.”

“I don’t think people in the Lane County — or honestly even in the Oregon — community, realize that there are people like us who can let us execute what you want,” Keeney says. “Enjoy your party. Make it something that you’re going to remember.”

The longer we live, we find that the best birthday gift you can give someone is creating new special memories with family and friends.

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