Celebrating Graduations, Birthdays, and Other Milestones Safely

ElizabethHappyHealthyCaregiver
This article, which originally appeared on Happy Healthy Caregiver, offers advice on celebrating milestones while social distancing. Used with permission.

While many events have been postponed or rescheduled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, milestone birthdays, anniversaries, and graduations still technically happen.

I’ve spent much time over the past few weeks thinking of ways to honor and celebrate my son Jacob’s high school graduation. We all remember the pinnacle moments of the end of our high school experience such as spring break, prom, honors night, senior skip day, baccalaureate, graduation ceremony and all the fun parties. I’m sad for Jacob (and for our entire family) that these pivotal moments feel stolen from us. I’ve wondered if it’ll still feel like he actually graduated if we don’t go through the motions of each of these events.

While we aren’t 100% certain if our county plans to reschedule the graduation ceremony, we do know for sure that we will be celebrating Jacob’s high school achievements in a big way. I even think we’ll end up celebrating possibly in a bigger and more unique way because we have a bit more time on our hands with our lives slowing way down.

While the high school graduation is the milestone impacting our family, I know families whose kids are struggling that they are missing their Pre-K graduation, 5th grade party, 8th grade dance, or college graduations. As parents, we need to validate our kids feelings and let them know that we, too, believe this just sucks!

Graduation isn’t the only milestone event being impacted. We’ve had close friends who have had birthdays during this time – one of them was our neighbor’s sweet 16th. And I’m certain there are others who are celebrating their 25th and 50th wedding anniversaries and missing out on all the special moments related to the births of children and grandchildren. All of these events deserve a BIG. milestone celebration! Highlighting what is actually GOOD in the world right now is saving our sanity in many ways.

Here’s a list of ideas we’ve tried or plan to try to celebrate these big milestones in a memorable way:

Create a gift (or pay someone else to make it)


I love a good DIY project, but some of these ideas you can hire out.

  • Yard signs and banners – Create your own poster with art supplies or design a banner digitally on Staples.com. We ordered a high-school yard-sign banner from a local business so that all our neighbors who are walking and driving by can recognize Jacob’s achievement. We also ordered some University of Georgia banners to share in his excitement for where he’ll be heading this fall.

  • Cook a meal – I’m not much of a chef, but I can make some pancakes. My neighbor Jeanette, who is a RN in a local hospital, celebrated her birthday a few weeks ago. It felt good to treat her to something unexpected. I’ve wished her many verbal happy birthdays over the years, but I have never cooked her anything unless she was eating at my house. If you live out of town and want to send a little comfort food, an Uber Eats digital gift-card is a great idea. Jacob got an Uber Eats gift card from a cousin that we are all excited about using. Not only do we get a night off from cooking, but we also get the joy of supporting a local restaurant during this difficult times.

  • Photo scrapbook or video – My daughter, Natalie, and I have taken over the dining room to get Jacob’s scrapbooks up-to-date. These albums will be fun to share with him when they are done. I think Jacob just witnessing we care to do this means a lot to him (even if he isn’t saying it). I’m also planning to create a slideshow out of photos and video clips and setting it to some of Jacob’s favorite music. I’ll always think of Jacob when I hear "You’ve Got a Friend in Me" from Toy Story movie or "Beverly Hills" by Weezer.

  • T-shirt quilt – My older sister started the quilt trend for her kids, and I’ve followed her lead. We’ve used a company called ProjectRepat.com to make the kids quilts from their sports, school, church, and 5K events.

  • Write a special letter, poem, or song – We recently called to sing "Happy Birthday" to our aunt who lives alone and is celebrating her 65th in her new dream home in California. During our call, she read us the heartfelt letter her adult son wrote her for her birthday, and it made our eyes well up. She claimed she was going to treasure it by hanging it on the fridge.

  • Paper towel and toilet paper sculpture – I’ll never look at toilet paper and paper towels the same again after experiencing the fear of not having them during this coronavirus pandemic. Tossing the cardboard cylinders in the trash when we are finished seems inappropriate. I used to give the empty rolls to Shadow to tear up, but now this seems disrespectful to a prized possession. I’m currently hoarding the cardboard rolls, and I plan to make something amazing from them.


Things you can say & do


The ideas below are low budget to no budget.

  • Social media shoutout – Kids are great about doing this for their friends on Instagram, but, as adults, we can get in the fun, too! The world doesn’t have to know the person, but they know you and now they’ll know how special this other person is to you. A couple of the moms of our high school seniors created a private Facebook Group for the senior parents. I’m enjoying everyone’s posts of their seniors with photos and accolades. It’s fun to read the comments since many families share ‘remember when’ stories. I’ve learned so much about these graduates from these posts, and we are all sharing in our grief of the stolen months of high school memories. It’s our own little support group.

  • Neighborhood parade – We live in a neighborhood of about 150 homes. We’ve got graduates from Pre-K to college in our neighborhood – maybe even a teacher of the year. I am envisioning our own Memorial Day parade complete with veterans, graduates, anniversary couples, retirees, and anyone else who deserves to be celebrated! We can decorate pick-up trucks, convertibles, wagons, ATVs, and bicycles. As long as we are social distancing by family, we’re compliant. We could even throw candy if wearing gloves!

  • Venmo – Who doesn’t love free money? For our neighbor’s sweet 16 we Venmo’d her $16 so she can do some online shopping.

  • Virtual happy hour – ZoomGoogle HangoutsFreeconferencecall.com, and Facebook Messenger all provide group video options to hang out virtually. Pop open the champagne or sparkling apple juice and spread some cheer!

  • Fancy dinner at home – My sweet friend Jen wanted to do something special with her family, so they got out the fine china dinnerware and dressed up for a fancy dinner at home.

  • Sidewalk chalk notes of love – How fun would it be to get the mail and realize that you had been visited by the sidewalk chalk fairies? Turn to Pinterest for some great ideas!

  • Drive by or walk by and sing – Coordinate an event with separate cars or line up with six feet in between and have a celebratory sing-a-long. Here’s a list of the 12 best sing-a-long songs.

  • Devote a day or week to your special someone – Whomever you are celebrating gets to choose everything – the meals, games, activities, and movies. It’s essentially all about them.


While the milestones will come and go, I’m hopeful that this special memories will stand out, and, ultimately, I hope these individuals will feel the love and know how important they are to us.

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