Sunday, October 2, 2011

My Aunt Marian: A Well Lived Life

Marian Hughes Shuff, PhD, Educator, Artist, beloved Aunt

The world lost another of its most priceless souls yesterday.  My aunt Marian passed away peacefully, ending an amazing 93 year life.

In a time when small town Kansan women didn't divorce, Marian did, and she did it with style  - or at least that was how it appeared in the eyes of a very naive niece.  With two young children to think of, she had the strength to pull them from a less than positive relationship and raise them in a supportive, loving environment.  Already armed with a degree in education, Marian earned her masters, then her PhD, and split her time between nurturing her children, and training and encouraging college students in how to be the best teachers they could possibly be.  I always thought those students were some of the luckiest on earth to have had her influence to take into the classroom.

Upon retiring, she and her new husband, Bob, moved to Arkansas where she began her second career as an artist - taking classes in various art technics for the next 18 years and specializing in etchings, screen prints and wood and lino cuts.  While our homes filled with the work she shared, it wasn't until her daughter published a one-of-a-kind book of her work that the depth of her talent really struck home.  She was amazing, and she was doing art shows even at 90 years of age!

As another cousin noted, we always felt loved by our parents, but we looked on in awe as Marian seemed to absolutely adore her children.  She nurtured all of us, though, as she was genuinely interested in our lives, our dreams.  All my life I've heard the call of a different drummer - never quite fitting in - and Marian, who I adored, let me know in glorious terms that it was not only okay, but a very good thing.  "We're just alike!"  she'd assure me, and it was always the greatest of compliments to me.

A stanch Democrat, Marian would tell of walking down the street with a friend and, in as loud a voice as possible state - "…..and the reason I'm voting for Bill Clinton (or Barack Obama, or...)  is…….."  She has been claiming for years that she couldn't die until "after the next election!"

One of my fondest memories of Marian was when my father was dying.  She'd driven the 6 hour trip from Arkansas to Kansas to support her little sister, my Mom.  The day my Father passed away, I'd gone into the Intensive Care Unit to tell him we were leaving for the night.  He shook his head "no".  To be clear, I asked if he was saying he wanted us to stay, and got a nod.  I went back to the ICU waiting room to tell Mom and Marian that Dad wanted us to stay.  At 84, Marian didn't bat an eye.  She pulled three of the most horrid uncomfortable chairs together, formed a recliner out of them and said "then, we're spending the night right here!"

With a slowly failing heart, Marian slowed down a bit the past couple years, but that didn't stop her involvement in life.  She kept up with friends and family, and started a blog, "Life In Our Nineties!"  Now, how cool is that?

Art by Marian Shuff, Port au Gard, 1987, intaglio
Knowing the end was near, her two children, her only grandchild and I descended on the small apartment she shared with her husband in Hot Springs, Arkansas two weeks ago.  We spent long hours laying on or sitting beside her bed, holding hands, and sharing stories.  "What are we going to talk about now?" she's ask. Or "what would you want to do more than anything else if money was not an option?"   We had a wonderful week, centered on what she loved best - good conversation with people she loved.  We all felt lucky to have had the time - time to cherish, to remember, to say goodbye.

It would easy to say her loss is great - but her loss reminds me that life really is eternal.  Whether you believe in an afterlife or not - the world is touched by people like my aunt, Marian.  She lives on in her friends, in her art, in her family, in the students she encouraged and those encouraged by them.  She lives on in my heart - as I was one of the really lucky ones to have known and loved her.

It is a shame to waste a life.  At 93 years of age, Marian didn't waste a day of hers.

Please visit Marian's art website. You can link to her blog, "Life In Our Nineties" from "the Artist" page.


  1. Karyn, I don't think you could have written a better tribute to my Mom. It is wonderful. Thank you so much.

  2. Karyn, I think of your aunt frequently and realized I had not read anything after Annie told me about her death. This is a wonderful tribute: it is not only the way I remember her (being a childhood friend of Annie) but enhances what I knew about her. Thanks.