Collective Memoir for an 80th Birthday

IMG_1789When I offered to act as an informal M.C. and Celebrant for my mother-in-law, Sheila’s, 80th birthday party, there were many possible options. In addition to speeches by family and friends, we could share some of her life events and stories, maybe have a trivia game based on little-known facts about her, or convey some of her life-taught wisdom.

When I talked to Sheila about what she wanted, and more importantly didn’t want to happen at her birthday party, I learned that aside from speeches, these ideas did not appeal to her. I wondered, what else might allow a group of family and friends to share some memories and express their love for her, in a way that she would be comfortable with? What hadn’t I thought of?

When I consulted my creative network of Celebrant colleagues, several suggested a Collective Memoir. I’d never heard of it before but it sounded perfect and Sheila was open to the idea.

I began by asking her immediate and extended family, including children, to write me a sentence or more about Sheila, beginning with a prompt I would give them. For example “I love remembering…” or “What I love/admire most about you is…” Some of the responses were touching, some funny. Once I collected all the contributions, I edited them together so that they would all flow well, one into the next. The writers would remain anonymous for now, so that she would have the fun of guessing who’s words I was reading. The anonymity also allowed the voices to gather and grow, like blossoms opening one at a time into a beautiful garden.

IMG_1759As I read the Collective Memoir to her and to all the guests, the tributes and stories called forth interest, warm smiles and sometimes laughter from the group, but I was most transfixed by the look on my mother-in-law’s face. She looked radiant and was sometimes near tears as she received her family’s loving words and memories. If the purpose of this particular Collective Memoir was to show my mother-in-law how much she is loved, cherished and appreciated, my hunch is that it succeeded.

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