Today I (James) learned that my grandmother passed away (my mom's mom.) The news is not unexpected - she had been suffering from advanced Alzheimer's disease for some time now, and had spent the past nine months or so in care home. By the end, she was quite incapacitated, barely able to move. And so the news of her passing comes as a relief, knowing that she has been released from a body that has definitely failed her.
My family lives scattered around the world, on several continents. My grandfather has requested that people to not come immediately to Vermont for a funeral, but rather wait until Summer. A family reunion had already been planned for July, and this will now be part memorial service/part celebration.
Mary Barclay really had a fascinating life. I wish I could write out a complete list of her accomplishments! Her C.V. was just too varied and eclectic to summarize in one sentence. I'll try to touch on a few of the highlights.
1. Was born in New Jersey (all good stories start in New Jersey, don't they?)
2. Grew up in the same town as my grandpa. They knew each other, but didn't have any interest in one another until they met again as adults.
3. Worked in the British information office in New York City during WWII, where she worked with a man who she later learned was one of the top British intelligence operatives.
4. Trained as an opera singer, and studied at Juilliard. Throughout her life, my grandpa and she would sing duets. My grandfather, who also has a very pleasant (and LOUD!) voice, would dutifully belt out the baritone parts.
5. When my mom, her two sisters and her brother were in their teens, my grandma and grandpa decided to move overseas with the Peace Corps. Over the years, they worked in Malaysia, Swaziland, New Guinea, and many other countries. The stories from these years could fill countless blogs!
(For example, she told me about a time in New Guinea when she was on a boat that was filled with smugglers. The craft was suddenly overtaken and boarded by a government boat, and chaos broke out as all the smugglers rushed to hide their goods. My grandma was accidentally thrown through a small hole in the deck, and fell into a stack of tires in the hold. Thankfully, she was unhurt, but her backside was shoved so far down into the stack of tires that she couldn't get free. How long she stayed wedged there I don't know!)
(A second anecdote! As my grandmother was flying in a small bush plane over the jungles of New Guinea, she looked down and spotted a clearing. There, before her eyes, were two groups aboriginals in the middle of a war! They were throwing spears, shooting arrows, and swinging clubs! She later learned that on occasion, tribes in the region engage in ceremonial warfare (sort of like using conflict for the sake of conflict resolution...) But they also have old-fashioned wars too, with all the blood and guts. She never knew which type she had witnessed!)
6. Grandma helped to raise me between the ages of 7 and 11. My sisters and I lived with them in Vermont, where we ran all over their property. You have to visit their place to understand just how idyllic the landscape is in Southern Vermont - maples and spruce, fields and streams, hills and valleys. In high school, I was able to spend three summers there with them, fishing and working in a small French restaurant in South Londonderry.
As I said above, Grandma's accomplishments could fill books. She worked with Cambodian refugees in Thailand, with village women in Swaziland, with her choir in Vermont, and of course, with her family throughout her long and exciting life.
We will all miss her. It is very sad to think that I will never see her again in my lifetime. But I know that she is in a much better place, free from her now-useless body. And now her life is in the hands of those she leaves behind - a devoted husband, three daughters and a son, and many grandchildren. We get to carry her story with us, sharing it with those around us.