Broadcasting pioneer Art Linkletter coined the phrase, “Kids say the darndest things.” But it’s also true of Bess, a 91-year-old mother with dementia whose wit and love language inspired her daughter, Bonnie Habyan, to write “The World According to Bess: A Funny Unfiltered Memoir of Life Lessons From My 90-Year Old Mom.”
“She’s been funny her whole life. She’s the spicy, fun grandma who serves ice cream for breakfast and paints the kid’s nails,” Habyan said. “As she aged, her quirkiness became more evident, so I started writing things down and putting the puzzle pieces together. We all call her Bess. I wanted to honor my mother and write a book. As time and dementia changed her, her evergreen lessons had more depth.”
Family members also contributed Bess-isms to her collection as they remembered funny memories or sayings.
Habyan and her husband of almost 31 years, John, recently moved to Hampton Lake from New York, where they had lived for 25 years. Their daughter, Holly, is in her second year of law school in New York City.
Before New York, they lived in Maryland, where Bonnie was Miss Baltimore Oriole, which led to her meeting John, a major league baseball player.
One thing that Habyan learned through the process of research, writing and publishing process is how important humor is, especially for those caring for loved ones with dementia. Bess’ life lessons share commonalities with everyone: take care of your kids, be kind to animals, be independent, and don’t depend on a man.
Habyan said the final lesson is “Go hug your mom.”
On Bess’ 91st birthday, Habyan presented her mother with the book. Habyan said that sometimes Bess could read a page and be spot-on, while other times it was frustrating due to her dementia.
It was Habyan’s dream to have her mother attend a book signing, and it came true in August in Bel Air, Maryland.
“It was magical for her. Friends from 40 or 50 years ago came because they saw it in the newspaper,” Habyan said. “That was the highlight. It was like the show, ‘This is Your Life.’ There is nothing better than connecting with someone over a book. I wasn’t sure if she’d be able to go, but we got her hair and makeup done and dressed her up. It was precious and I’m still pinching myself.”
When Bess saw a friend from long ago, she jokingly said, “You’ve gotten fat.” Habyan said that was a typical Bess comment.
“This was a last hurrah!” Habyan said. “It was a chance to see people for the last time. When you dream and fantasize about something it never meets your expectations, but this did. In this moment she was whole again – her memories, her life. What a gift!”
By capturing Bess’ anecdotes, humor and quick wit, Habyan reflects warmly in her book about a lifetime of wisdom from a one-of-a-kind woman and all the laugh-out-loud memories they’ve shared.
In addition to being an author, Habyan works remotely as chief marketing officer for a New York finance company. Before getting her MBA in banking and finance, she was a corporate spokesperson, news reporter, and a radio DJ for call-in love songs.
“The World According to Bess,” available online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble, is her first book, but it might not be her last, she said. “I am going to do another book or two I am considering,” she said. “One is related to marketing and one is related to women and the need to invest in each other.” She is still deciding which she will do first.
Edwina Hoyle is a freelance writer in Bluffton.