Planning a birthday party in the middle of a worldwide pandemic must be done with great care and love. (Sarah Simpson/Citizen)

Planning a birthday party in the middle of a worldwide pandemic must be done with great care and love. (Sarah Simpson/Citizen)

Sarah Simpson Column: Birthdays in the time of COVID-19

It was a couple of weekends ago, now, that I had the opportunity to join a small but important gathering of a family that was not my own. I had been invited into their inner circle to photograph the milestone birthday of the family’s patriarch. I was happy to attend the event, as it was the family of a good friend of mine, but I’ll admit that it was unlike any other family get-together I’ve ever been to.

It wasn’t anyone’s fault, it’s just a sign of the times and let me tell you, these COVID-19 times are wild.

The organizers of the party planned every detail with the safety of their guests in mind, from the large open space in which the party was held, to the hand sanitizer and custom-made masks required before entering it, and even to the disinfectant wipes on hand to wipe things down should anyone need to go inside to use the washroom. They didn’t do this out of fear, they did it out of love for the 90-year-old guest of honour who was their dad, husband, grandpa and great-grandpa and overall guiding light.

It was a small group, but spread out over four tables that were set far enough apart from each other to maintain each family’s separate bubble. Each table was self sufficient with everything needed to have a lovely lunch together, but apart. No detail was spared when planning to safely celebrate a man that was so clearly this family’s anchor.

This isn’t how it should have been. But it’s 2020. There should have been big hugs and kisses and handshakes and pats on the back. I have no doubt there would have been loads of them if not for the pandemic. Because that’s what you think of when you think of love, right? Hugs, kisses, and whatnot?

Or is it just me?

To be fair, I never had the opportunity to celebrate a grandparent’s milestone birthday. I’m not so sure of the dates but I think all four of mine died before I was a teen. Sadly, my memories of my family’s elders are sparse. This type of party was foreign to me.

I’m not sure if it was because of that, or because of COVID-19, but I learned something as I photographed the event. I learned it maybe wasn’t so much about the physical affection after all. Nobody at the party really had the opportunity to get near each other but it didn’t seem to matter. You could feel the love bouncing around between everyone at their separate tables, and building up exponentially before landing squarely on the Birthday Boy. You could feel the smiles behind the masks when the somewhat quick and awkward socially distanced group photos were taken. You could feel why this family had done everything they could to protect this man and themselves from COVID-19 while still gathering in celebration of his birthday.

It turns out there are a lot more ways to show love than with hugs and kisses. In this day and age it takes a little more planning, and a lot more cleaning, but for this special family, showing that love was all worth the effort.

After lunch, the honouree was treated to a video full of messages and well wishes from a bunch of people I’d never met, which is not at all surprising given it wasn’t my family.

It’s weird to be a fly on the wall, watching somebody else’s special family moments. As a photographer it’s my job to stay out of the way and just capture the moments, but during the video there weren’t too many photos to take so I found myself participating in its viewing. It was tribute after tribute, story after story, about this man from a great many of the people he’d clearly so positively impacted over the course of his life. It must have gone on for 20 minutes, if not close to half an hour.

Much like the effort it took to create the COVID-friendly party, it took a lot of effort to make the movie, too. The video featured a lot of seniors not too comfortable talking directly into their devices but none of the speakers seemed to mind working through that because they all wanted to share in their friend, employee, extended family member’s special day. Together, but apart. That viewing taught me that love can travel through iMovie if you need it to. It’s not the same kind of love, but it can be just as powerful.

There was no candle on the cake but no one seemed to mind. There was, instead, an individual cupcake sporting a lone candle and a pair of sparklers. I can only imagine what the wish was when the old chap, surrounded by his loving family, blew it out.



sarah.simpson@cowichanvalleycitizen.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

ColumnistComedy and Humour

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The CVRD will reconsider its policies on fireworks after receiving complaints. (File photo)
Cowichan Valley Regional District considers options for fireworks after receiving complaints

Distict only allows fireworks on Halloween and New Year’s Eve, with a permit

Ben Maartman, left, and Murray McNab are running for regional director for Area H North Oyster-Diamond in a Cowichan Valley Regional District byelection later this month. (Photos submitted)
Preliminary Area H byelection results show Maartman up by seven votes, McNab to ask for recount

Results of the by-election to by finalized by noon on Tuesday, December 1

Freighter anchored off Kin Beach in Chemainus. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Cowichan MP hosting virtual town hall on freighter anchorages issue

Residents can participate through MP’s website or Facebook page Dec. 3

Santa will be in Honeymoon Bay on Dec. 13. (File photo)
Santa to visit Honeymoon Bay on Dec. 13

Families must call ahead due to pandemic

A B.C. Ambulance Service paramedic wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 moves a stretcher outside an ambulance at Royal Columbia Hospital, in New Westminster, B.C., on Sunday, November 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. records deadliest weekend of COVID-19 pandemic with 46 deaths; more than 2,300 cases

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry provides COVID-19 update

Kettle bells sit aligned in an indoor fitness studio. (PIxabay.com)
1 COVID-19 case at a B.C. fitness studio leads to 104 more infections, 6 school exposures

According to case data released by Fraser Health, one case of the novel coronavirus carries a big impact

Vehicles drive past a display thanking essential workers in Burnaby, B.C. on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
B.C. changing COVID-19 case reporting as virus spread continues

Manual counting takes more time, leads to errors

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Mask fundraiser helps make children’s wishes come true

From Black Press Media + BraveFace – adult, youth and kid masks support Make-A-Wish Foundation

Christy Jordan-Fenton is the co-author of the book Fatty Legs, which has been mentioned amid the controversy of an Abbotsford school assignment on residential schools.
Co-author of residential schools book condemns controversial Abbotsford class assignment

Children’s book mentioned amid controversy at W. A. Fraser Middle School

Kootenay East MLA Tom Shypitka takes over as energy and mines critic for the B.C. Liberal opposition. Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick (right) moves from health critic to assistant deputy speaker. (Hansard TV)
B.C. Liberals pick critics to take on Horgan’s NDP majority

Interim leader Shirley Bond takes seniors, long-term care

Left to right: A screenshot of NTC nurse navigator Lesley Cerney, FNHA regional mental health manager Georjeana Paterson and Island Health’s medical health officer Dr. Charmaine Enns addressing Ehattesaht community members from Ehatis reserve in a Facebook live update. (Ehattesaht First Nation/Facebook)
Medical team sent to Ehatis reserve near Zeballos to guide community through COVID outbreak

17 cases, eight recoveries and no hospitalizations as Island Health praises First Nation’s response

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland listens to a question from a reporter on the phone during a news conference in Ottawa, Monday, Nov. 30, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Spending too little worse than spending too much, Freeland says as Canada’s deficit tops $381B

‘The risk of providing too little support now outweighs that of providing too much’

Still from a video surveillance camera of a man alleged to have stolen from several people at knife-point in Chilliwack (Rosedale) early on Nov. 28, 2020. (Facebook)
B.C. man defends his family against intruder, saves neighbour while wielding hockey stick

RCMP looking for footage that captures violent crime spree in Chilliwack

Most Read