Echoes of people singing “Happy Birthday” could be heard from the Atria Lynbrook retirement living center on Dec. 23 at about 1:30 p.m., as family members sang to resident Signe Ralph in celebration of her 104th birthday.
Despite the mask wearing requirements and the need to social distance, Ralph said she enjoyed seeing her loved ones celebrate her longevity and hearing them reflect on the impact that she has had on their lives. At the party, Ralph said she could not help but think about all the years she has spent living.
“I had a pretty good life because I got to experience love at first sight in 1936 when I first laid eyes on my husband, William, who I later married and stayed with for 78 years,” she said.
Born on 124th street in Manhattan, Ralph, who has also lived in Staten Island and in the Bronx, said she has learned plenty of lessons from all her years of life.
“I learned that sometimes in life it is better to stay quiet because it’s hard to tell people what to do, and expect them to listen,” she said. “Too many people ruin their lives searching for something else and trying to change others will just leave you with regrets. We shouldn’t tell other people how to live.”
Ralph said the hardest thing she has gone through in life was when her husband died in 2014 at 101. She added that despite losing her husband, she has learned through time that grief becomes less prevalent and life becomes easier.
“You have to accept death,” she said. I still talk to him when no one is around. I think of him all the time. It’s hard to have to remember certain painful things in life, but I believe he is in heaven.”
After a few years of living on her own since her husband’s death, Ralph moved to the Atria last May because she kept falling in her home and couldn’t live on her own anymore. Having lived at the Atria Living center for nearly a year, she said she has formed amazing bonds, and the employees there said Ralph has been a joy to be around.
“Signe is remarkably dynamic and she has so much wisdom,” said Lynbrook resident, Dianna Viglietta, who is the engage life program instructor at the Atria Lynbrook facility. “I have been enamored with her since the moment I met her because she’s such an incredibly strong woman.”
Lori Treglia, of Island Park, who is the engage life instructor at the living center and organizes games and arts and crafts for residents, had a similar outlook about Ralph.
“I always can engage in conversations with Signe and she’s a pleasure to see every day and to talk to and do art projects with,” she said.
As the birthday celebration came to a close, many of Ralph’s family members said they experienced mixed emotions because of their worries about the coronavirus pandemic’s effect on elderly people, such as Ralph.
“My mother is sometimes overly nice and she taught me to be kind and to have love for everyone, including animals,” her son, William Ralph Jr., said. “It’s incredible that she is 104, but because of her age we worry all the time. We hope everyone is wearing their masks and I don’t know if my mother will take the Covid-19 vaccine, but if enough people take it, then maybe she will be okay.”
Ralph’s granddaughter, Kristen Ralph, said her grandmother taught her about hard work and she eventually took the lessons to heart and became a nurse.
“My grandma always taught me to look at the positive side of things and to have faith that people will change for the better on their own, not by anything I try to do,” she said. “I definitely miss the hugs and close contact with my grandma and I can see it in her eyes that she just wants to give me a big hug.”
According to her daughter-in-law, Joann Ralph, Signe has been the voice of reason plenty of times when she had arguments with William Jr.
“This birthday is an emotional one for me because Signe really helped me through life,” she said. “It’s hard because we really can’t get too close to her, but we are doing the best by being here for her today.”