Family or friends?

May 1, 2012

in Friendship, Personal

This is another special request post! (Sounds good but I really only have two and a half readers really and one of them is married to me).

It’s for a post about birthdays – I had one recently. Particularly about celebrating them, or perhaps not, since they are just about adding another year, which must inevitably involve losing another year.

I refused to celebrate a landmark birthday, partly for that reason and partly because I thought there was not much to celebrate, given I had arrived at that date just by living. A bit of a ‘so what?’

I was thinking, we should celebrate good news, good luck, excitements. I thought about those landmark birthday celebrations in great age when you think everyone is thinking ‘the next time we’ll meet will be for the funeral’ and how I so don’t want that..

But I thought then – those celebrations are often family orientated. They are about a kind of ritual family getting together – people with little in common but their origins meeting to acknowledge those origins and their connection to each other.

A bit different from celebrating with friends. I can expect real connection then, with people who really like me (maybe..there’s another post!). I love to bring my friends together so they at least know one another and can enjoy such occasions with people they know and have an interest in. Hopefully no-one will then be sitting next to someone they have nothing in common with, drearily dredging up conversation.

It may be one of the great changes in our world – this shift to the freedoms of friendships from the obligations of family. Most of us keep a foot in both camps. Some derive great pleasure from all of their family members – are they the exceptions? Some friendships can become like family over time, and not in a good way – obligation and responsibility where the vital connection and real mutual interest has faded.

Interesting question – who do we want to celebrate what with? And why?

Veddw, sitting room ceiling copyright Anne Wareham



Sue Beesley (@suebeesley) May 8, 2012 at 9:37 pm

It was my 50th last year and I chose to hold as big a party as we could muster in a big tent on the field. We kept it informal and fun, inviting my immediate family, OH’s immediate family, long standing friends and newly acquired ones equally.

Perhaps because all of my family live over 150 miles away and none of them live close to one another, we haven’t had the opportunity to fall out properly as adults (childhood/teenage differences have long been either sorted, or satisfactorily interred). Perhaps this distance means there also isn’t such a clear distinction between family ‘obligation’ invitations and friend invitations – if anything, I had more difficulty drawing lines with friends than with family. And I would have gone ahead on the date had either of my brothers declined, though with considerable regret.

What was my motivation? Partly the excuse to gather together people I care for, partly to give them a rare, perhaps one-off opportunity to meet one another, partly a desire to share some good fortune (there was a ‘no presents’ rule, of course). Only about a week before the party did it actually dawn on me that I would be expected to speak and to be the centre of attention at times.

I’m so glad we did it – so many great memories and with all my immediate family present and in good health. For how long, we don’t know. My father is 80 this year. All of my parents’ brothers and sisters are alive too. But it can’t last and I hate funerals too. So, I’m glad I was the excuse for a celebratory party while we could still enjoy it together.

Sally May 7, 2012 at 6:40 pm

Yeah it is great to see Charles here – amazing coincidence. My chap is organizing the Six Feet Under Conference in Bournemouth, and Charles is working with him on the Good funeral guide awards! Small world..

anne May 7, 2012 at 7:11 pm

It is a small bloggy world!

Janet Stewart May 3, 2012 at 5:44 pm

I still look forward to my birthday although not with the same excitement and expectation as when I was younger. I view them like Christmas, as a special day to look forward to and be happy, a change form all the other humdrum days of the year (or is that just my life?) I don’t see them as losing another year or as getting a year older, I class them as ‘my’ one special day of the year and a reason to celebrate no matter what else may be going on in my life. I don’t think of the in terms of getting older (I really don’t notice any difference/change in myself from one year to another) and truly some days I have to calculate, by the year of my birth, how old I am.

I think the purpose behind celebrating ‘landmark’ birthdays in days before was because very few people attained the age of 50 so to reach that age and beyond was cause for celebration. Nowadays our life expectancy is a lot longer say 80 and beyond so perhaps the novelty of celebrating a 50th or 60th birthday has lessened and we’re more inclined to think of a landmark birthday as reaching 70 or 80 (besides 50 is the new 40!).

The wonderful thing about life today is that we are more open to choice and different ways of doing things. It used to be obligatory and expected for you to have a big party on a landmark birthday with an invitation to almost everyone who had crossed your path during that time, even ones you hadn’t spoken to in years, now we’re able to celebrate in whatever way we choose whether it’s to have a big party, go away with a loved one/friends or even spend it on our own.

I have to admit whenever someone reaches a ‘great age’ it has never crossed my mind that the next time we meet will be at their funeral I’m usually I’m very impressed and hope that I too will reach that age especially if they are still enjoying and living life to the full and are still happy to be here, I’m happy to wish them many more birthdays.

Family life has also changed, especially amongst the younger generation, so the family we keep close and have close bonds with tend to be our immediate family who we choose to keep company with rather than it being an obligation, I would therefore consider them friends as well as being a relative. Distant relatives nowadays tend to be exactly that – distant.

Birthday celebrations, I feel, should be shared and enjoyed with the people you love and like after all it is your day and you should celebrate it how and with whomever you wish.

Other occasions I think are a bit tricker where family obligations are concerned. In an ‘ideal world every celebration you have should be shared only with the people you wish to share it with. For me celebrations where family members should be included
(and I can’t fathom my reasons for thinking this) are weddings (although I know this too should be celebrated with only the people you wish to be there) and funerals. For some reason I feel these are ‘family’ occasions to be celebrated with your friends, close relatives and distant relatives, as a way of keeping your family ties/bonds connected.

Birthdays and Christenings (to me) are personal and should be celebrated with those you love and choose to be with – the people you have chosen to be your ‘family’.

anne May 3, 2012 at 7:40 pm

One of the critical things here would be whether your family share your ideas about who should be where when. I think those things are in flux, so if one family member thinks they should be included in something other people think they needn’t be feelings can get hurt. We are having to feel our way through changes…

Bridget May 1, 2012 at 4:24 pm

I had a landmark birthday recently too and invited family and friends to a weekend I thought they would enjoy. Really it was an excuse to get them together, although I admit the drive to get there was further than I thought.

I had a fabulous time though (selfishly) and it was great that my various friends got along well together.

I’m trying to work out how soon I can do it again, and how to manage it better next time to share burdens fairly. I just saw some pictures of a hen party where all the guests were wearing smart hats and clay pigeon shooting and clearly having a ball. Isn’t this what a party is for?

If you want to have a party, just find an excuse and birthdays are good ones!

anne May 1, 2012 at 4:57 pm

We did get along and have a great time – and even with your family! – but you do…umm.. rather dodge the question of the differences between friends and family….

Paul Steer May 1, 2012 at 3:10 pm

Am I the half a reader ?

Very searching question… my brain is not in good working order today. My gut reaction to this is that organised celebration with either friends or family can start out as obligation but can turn into something more meaningful when we put aside our own views and feelings and start to see the good stuff in those we are close to. Listening or taking heed of others sometimes reveals things which universally bind us. We all have different interests which may divide us, but I have noticed that there are common human experiences which bind most of us together (getting older being one of them) These experiences are usually ones that make us a little bit vulnerable. If we are willing to accept our vulnerability and that of friends and family, it seems to act like a mysterious balm. NOT SAYING I AM ALWAYS GOOD AT IT THOUGH. Just in case you thought I was perfect.

anne May 1, 2012 at 3:47 pm

Of course you are perfect, half a Wise One.

anne May 6, 2012 at 9:26 am

After some thought, in response to Paul. Yes, we can always make connections with people, usually by engaging with what they might be interested in. But if we’re choosing to celebrate, is that how we want to do it? Is that what we mean by celebrating? The effort required and which you describe so well, though, does conjure up all those obligatory, family occasions….

Charles Cowling May 1, 2012 at 1:35 pm

I went to a friend’s birthday party on Sunday. We gathered from far and wide having driven through monsoon rains to get there. I reflected that I haven’t the ego to put people to such trouble — even though, as reunions go, it was terrific. I let my recent 60th pass without so much as a whimper.

Setting self-deprecation aside, is it, perhaps, best to appraise the likely gravitational pull of the event (incorporating an appraisal of the gravitational pull of ourselves), and then decide on the who?

It is one of life’s many quirky ironies that our funerals will exert a stronger gravitational force than any event in our lives, and will compel attendance from friends and family alike.

anne May 1, 2012 at 2:24 pm

You are so right about the funerals.(I note your interest goes a long way – good stuff.) But they may be informed by duty. Duty is a strong compeller to many occasions, perhaps..

Charles Cowling May 1, 2012 at 2:49 pm

I don’t know about that. I don’t think there’s a lot of foot-dragging. Most people really like a good funeral, don’t they? Afterwards they commend themselves on their dutifulness, for sure — it’s certainly a self-congratulation event. The funeral tea is always a draw, of course.

No, I believe a funeral definitely falls into the wouldn’t-miss-it-for-anything category. Such a shame the guest of honour always seem to miss it by just a few days.

anne May 1, 2012 at 3:46 pm

Not so fond of funerals myself. Could be an acquired taste, in which case I am heading off down the acquiring road these days…

John May 19, 2012 at 10:32 pm

While getting my hair cut (I still have some) recently, another customer was relating his pension-stretching tactic of trying to attend at least 4 funerals a week. His technique involves careful study of newspapers followed by inquisitive calls to the funeral directors. He said it’s fairly easy to work out when the catering is the occasional sit-down planned thing and avoid those like the plague. Otherwise he always manages to find out what the outlay on catering is (offering a donation is apparently a good tactic) and then chooses the most attractive events to attend. He gets by conversation-wise with copious “ums” and “ahs” and listening carefully to the euology. Now if that’s all it takes …..!

Sally May 6, 2012 at 7:53 pm

Is this Charles Cowling, writer of The Good Funeral Guide? 🙂

anne May 6, 2012 at 11:22 pm

I do believe it is. Great to see Charles here!

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