How do you live well into your 90's?
The best way to answer that question is to take a retrospective look into the life of someone who has done it.
This is the life story of a remarkable matriarch, Patricia Hoff, mother of eight, grandmother of 17, great-grandmother of 19, and a mother-like figure to many. She happens to be my mother whose celebration of life was held in January and attended by over 70 friends and family. She was a living example of how to live a fulfilled life even through tragedy. She lived until the age of 93. Here’s how she did it.
1. Start by living authentically
If you speak with enough people about Patricia Hoff, a consistent picture emerges: a highly verbal and honest woman, a fabulous communicator, a charmer, a large personality whose life’s arc encompassed change, growth, and, yes, heartache in her 93 years.
2. Make the best of your education
My mother received master’s degree, so to speak, in living. She often put it in dramatic musical terms: she lived a C above high C. That fundamental education from St Paul’s High School in San Francisco was just the starting point. When my father converted to Catholicism at her behest, they both perhaps bit off more than they could chew with a family of eight children, all happy accidents for following the conventions of the church. That strict adherence to Catholic rules spawned a rebellion in her later years, out of a strong reaction to the obedience she gave blindly to a system that did all the thinking for her.
3. Be defiant and make your own rules
She’d often insist: “Nobody’s going to own me anymore,” a defiant proclamation of freedom. She had played the part of a dutiful wife and mother until my father’s death in 1989 and our brother Kenny’s passing five years later. Though she’d already experienced tragedy when my sister Rosemary succumbed to leukemia in the early sixties, it was Kenny’s death that transformed her more abruptly.
4. Gain freedom by losing your religion
This self-examination began to solidify her new-age thinking, which was a mix of Christian principle and a belief in reincarnation and karma. She truly believed that we all have a life lesson and we return again and again until we get it right, a kind of Buddhist-Hindu thinking sans yoga or mediation (she hated exercise). She told me that even if there were a magic pill to stop AIDS, she would not give it to Kenny because he needed to return to Earth at a later time to learn new lessons--and she would be in his new life story again but in a different role.
5. Find a good mentor
The pillars of my mother’s faith had been cracked, but her personality remained largely unaltered. She found true independence living alone and sought to understand more of the world, more of herself, drawing on an intellectual account first stocked by Dr. David Warren, a junior college humanities instructor who proved to be, I believe, her biggest inspiration.
6. Always be open-minded at every stage of life
Concerning this period, the early 1970s, she wrote the following in an email to me three decades later: “How could anyone remain in a box? The lid sprung open and I jumped out. Eager learner, I exposed myself to all thoughts: radical, religious, the political and the outrageous. My life took many turns, good and bad, but there was always a lesson there, like it or not.”
7. Educate yourself through traveling
Her curiosity, always a strong point, blossomed magnificently. She travelled extensively through Europe, Asia and Africa, visiting her beloved Ireland twelve times. Now the woman who could talk to anyone found common ground with everyone.
8. Never stop seeking to find your voice even in your later years
Where many of us peak in our forties and fifties, Patt Hoff seemed to find her true voice, the easy confidence and sense of self, in her seventies and eighties. Her broad experience, gift of communication and ability to focus and listen enabled an ability to connect with anybody, from a bus stop stranger to fellow passengers on a cruise.
9. Be curious about other people
Oh, what a delight to see her in action. I remember the night she met my girlfriend Virginia’s mother, Ginny. Ginny is a shy, private woman, but my ever-ebullient mother opened her like a can of butterflies. “Do you read, Ginny? What do you like to read? Tell me about your favorite books.” Later on the phone Virginia and I laughed with glee and amazement how Patt got to the heart of Ginny as no other could. Patt’s humanity, this acute intuition into others, might have been her biggest strength.
10. Have a motto to live by
She was a worldly woman at home in any crowd. Some of her famous quotations still ring in my ear:
11. Be resourceful
The most remarkable thing about my mother is that the whole time I was growing up she served the family nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found. Was the role of cook, house-keeper and solicitous nurturer exactly right for her? I’d answer that this way: she did the best she could in overwhelming circumstances, and all of us grew up happy and healthy. The part of mentor, matriarch and confidante developed later when we matured enough to appreciate what she had become, Bon Bon, the name her grandchildren called her, with the gentle touch.
12. Always be a comfort to others
My sister Jeanne describes it this way: “She had the gift of comfort, the gift of praise, whatever the occasion called for.”
13. Be patient and live in the now
My sister Dolores recalls, “She was just content to be waiting, people watching. She actually enjoyed the waiting time, acknowledging the fresh air, the scenery, the people, the moment, catching her breath, it was all part of the outing.” Living in
the moment before it became a new-age trend.
14. Define your dignity by blessing others
Her final years at Emily’s Guest House were mellow. She prayed with Dolores and reconverted to Christianity, back to a salvation and belief she probably never truly abandoned. This was a peaceful soul who had done everything she needed in do, having completed a full life by any measure. In her last months she maintained a dignified stoicism, a self-composure recalling one of her favorite adages: “Laugh and the world laughs with you. Cry and you cry alone.”
15. Have no regrets
Tears do not feel appropriate today. She told us to laugh and play songs at her funeral. So mother, Patricia, Bon Bon, you onward-ever soul, as you view us from the great beyond, or even as a reincarnated fly on the wall, may you find this event today a rollicking good time.
This eulogy was written and delivered by my brother, Mike Hoff, with help from me and my siblings.
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