My 102 Year Old Mother’s Secrets To Life
My mother, Bonny Maynard, died this week. She was two months shy of 102. So, I’m rounding up to her next birthday.
You would expect a woman her age to be long past the point of participating in life. In fact, you wouldn’t expect a woman to be her age.
But until three weeks ago, my mother was a bundle of sunshine, entertaining the staff at her hospice residence in Ann Arbor, Mich., with stories of her long-ago childhood and youth, as the child of Eastern European immigrants.
We actually thought there might be a chance to take her home, one more time (she had rebounded from a hypertension attack in April that caused her to be hospitalized). Instead, her exit finally came, swiftly, comfortably and without pain.
This week, I gave her eulogy, and I distilled what I could figure out to be her secrets to life. Here is what I said.
It is an honor to welcome you to this celebration of my mother’s life.
People often asked her the secret to living so long. She would reply, “Chocolate.”
Actually, there are four things that I would like to share today about my mother and her approach to living.
Have faith. She was a relentlessly positive person, fond of saying, “It will all work out.” Behind her faith was a great determination- and a sense of how to get from Point A to Point B. My mother felt anything was possible, if you could figure out a way to accomplish it. She was a first generation American and she saw what this country could mean, especially with education.
She went to Roosevelt College in Chicago as a young woman and then she earned her degree at Eastern Michigan University one class at a time and she graduated when she was 68. As she would tell you, it’s never too late.
(Note: my mother married at age 38 and had both her children in her 40s — natural conceptions and childbirths. She wanted one more after me, and her doctor put his foot down.)
Be kind. My mother was kind to everyone. She was friendly to everyone, whether it was the wait staff at the Ann Arbor City Club or the Executive Editor of the New York Times. She told me, Smile at them first. Then, they’ll smile back. (A tactic I often use as a journalist.)
One of her favorite sayings was “Promptness is the courtesy of a prince.” She was on time, she wrote thank you notes, and she acknowledged every kindness to her. She loved all of us to pieces and was always doing unexpected magic things.
At the City Club, there are intricate little origami boxes for sale, made by the members. I admired hers, and last winter, a little package arrived in the mail where I was living at the time in Arizona. It had one of those boxes. And inside were Mardi Gras beads, because she knew how much I love New Orleans.
Learn. People have remarked on how much my mother must have seen in her 101 years and 10 months. But she did not look backward. She was very much in the moment. She read the Times every day. She listened to NPR and she read numbers of endless books. A week ago Sunday, I visited her at Arbor Hospice and she had started reading a new one, The Little Paris Bookshop. She kept a dictionary by her sofa to look up new words.
She played bridge for decades, but then she decided to learn to play mah Jong — when she was 90. She figured out how to use her cell phone, sort of. She played Solitaire on my iPad, which she mysteriously called “the app.” She never stopped learning new things.
Notice. We often speed through life, especially now with all our devices, which she called “your calculators.” My mother perfected the art of paying attention. Today, she would say, “You’re wearing my necklace” (which I did in her honor). She saw the changes of the season, and new buildings and facial hair on my nephews and the shading within different colors of roses. She noticed things and far from being just an observer, she absorbed them. And, those layers all added up to her wonderful character.
Throughout her life, my mother was a great traveler. She loved Paris and London and Chicago and we had endless laughs on our vacations together. Someone once asked her, “Where did you go on your last trip?” She replied, “I haven’t taken it yet.” Well, now she has, and we are here to wish her a Bon Voyage. Or you might say a Bonny Voyage.
Thank you for helping us to see her off.
Follow Micheline Maynard on Twitter @mickimaynard