I recently lost my last grandparent, my paternal grandmother. She was 94 years old and had Alzheimer’s. It was expected, but still sad. I was very close to her, although we had been unable to communicate for the last 8 years due to the Alzheimer’s.
She was born Marian McHugh – she had no middle name that we know of – in Brooklyn, NY on March 9, 1917 to parents who had immigrated from England. Her childhood was not an easy one, but she managed to overcome the hardships of her early life to become a remarkable and inspiring woman who lived life to the fullest and was not scared to try new things. With my grandfather, she raised three sons, co-owned/ran a restaurant, worked for Pan American Airlines, and started up a paper company. They moved from Brooklyn to Miami in 1946 and she spent the remainder of her life in South Florida, where she adored the sunshine and the beach.
She introduced me to dim sum, told me to get a job working with computers because “someday they will be very important,” taught me about the stock market, and blew past me on I-95 in Miami doing 90 mph while yelling, “You drive like a grandmaaaaa!” at me.
She was a social butterfly who had an extended circle of friends throughout her life. Well into her late 70′s she would get together with girlfriends for barbecued ribs and strawberry daiquiris. She rode her bicycle almost daily on the boardwalk in Hollywood Beach, and always found someone to stop and talk to.
From her I inherited my blue-green eye color, my curvy figure, a love for travel and Asian cultures, and a strong work ethic. She taught me that life is fun, no matter what age you are.
In spite of only having an 8th grade education, she was a sharp and insightful person. She read the newspaper daily and was knowledgeable about world events. She did multiple crosswords daily until she was about 92 – her vocabulary level was exemplary. Her world travels gave her a perspective into social, cultural, and economical policies that made her stand out from her peers. She had a great interest in traveling to Asia and made many trips to that region, particularly to China. I remember her telling me once, “The Chinese are a very smart people, and very misunderstood. Always keep an open mind about other cultures.”
Her descent into Alzheimer’s was not an easy one to watch. What was once a bright, vibrant, fashionable woman who traveled the world, swam in the ocean daily until she was 89, and rode on the back of a motorcycle in England in her sixties – slipped away until she no longer recognized us.
I’m sure she’s sitting on a beach somewhere, and that she’s made friends already wherever she is.