VANCOUVER, British Columbia – More than 30 family and friends will help Gordie Howe celebrate his 85th birthday Sunday at a private dinner in Detroit.
They know to cherish times like these. Howe's family revealed just over a year ago that the hockey great has a mild form of dementia.
"His memory loss is getting to the point where it's almost becoming difficult to do a lot of interaction with Dad," son Mark said in a recent interview. "I'm sure this (birthday) will go well, but a year from now, I don't know what life's going to bring.
"So we're going to make the best of it."
Despite his health issues, Howe began celebrating his milestone birthday in early March when he attended a ceremony at a Vancouver Giants game. He's a minority owner of the Western Hockey League team. Before Sunday's birthday dinner, he'll take in a Red Wings-Blackhawks game.
And the events won't end Sunday.
Howe will make another appearance at a Red Wings game against the Colorado Avalanche on Monday and attend charity hockey games in Calgary, Edmonton and possibly Vancouver in the coming weeks.
Fans still can't get enough of Mr. Hockey.
"He's just an easygoing guy," Marty said. "You can talk to him for five minutes and think you've been friends for 30 years. That's always been his secret, I think."
Howe has spent recent months with daughter Cathy at her home in Texas, where he enjoys the warm weather. He stays with sons Marty, Murray and Mark at other times during the year.
Fellow Hall of Famer Bobby Hull is certain aging doesn't sit well with Howe.
"Getting old isn't fun," he said. "I'd like to find the guy or the girl that coined the phrase that these are the golden years. Like hell they are. Give me back my youth. And I'm sure he feels the same way."
Marty says Howe is "slowing down."
"He's starting to feel his age like he never did before," he said.
The public events are good for Howe's health, Marty said, because the interaction stimulates his brain and he always "perks up."
"At first, I was thinking, well, we just won't do as many events and stuff and let him go fishing and down to Florida and relax a little bit," Marty said. "But he can't stand still."
Howe, who Marty says is "strong as a bear," also remains physically active, fishing in the summer with Mark, the Red Wings' head pro scout, and practicing his putting on the golf course.
"Dad's kind of a fixture down there," Mark said. "People look forward to having him down there. But when you have him, you cherish every day. You hope you have more, but you never know, so you take every day and live life to the fullest. That's your only other option."
Mark says Howe is looking forward to seeing family at his birthday celebration.
"It's getting tougher and tougher and tougher on him, but he loves being around his family," Mark said.
Howe's late wife Colleen suffered from Pick's disease, a rare form of dementia. Going through that experience with their mother has helped the Howes deal with their father's condition.
"What's gone on, it's part of life," Mark said. "When you're 85 years old, these things happen to people."