Two weeks ago we lost our dear neighbor, Miss. Helen. Helen was special for so many reasons. She moved here when Tad was still living in our house as a child. She lost her first husband to cancer and then met Fletcher Williams. When they married, she asked Tad's father to walk her down the aisle - his siblings still remember her as Mrs. Gill, but to our kids she has always been Miss. Helen Williams. No stranger to sadness, Helen buried both of those husbands and two of her three children - Frankie to complications of diabetes and Melanie to cancer - since she first came into our lives. She had just turned 89 when she died, having been diagnosed with leukemia just days before.
Miss. Helen was our friend, our nurse (as a retired pediatric nurse she was my go-to person to determine if a cut needed stitches or a limb needed X-rays), a grandma and our neighborhood porch sitter. She has always had her chair on her porch with an extra (used to be Fletch's) for whichever neighbor chose to join her. Often, it would be our Andrea joining her, with Tali or Nehemiah tagging along closely behind. In her latter years, Miss. Helen's hearing and eyesight weren't all that and she and Andrea shared the special bond of the hearing impaired - hollering at each other and smiling often. They also shared a love of elephants, both sharing with the other the highlights of their own personal collections. Her grandson Ryan who has Down Syndrome and was much-loved by Helen, was the last one we saw sitting on Helen's chair on the porch, explaining to us over and over again that his whole family would be at his Grandma's funeral. He sobbed through the whole service.
Helen always had gifts for all the children at Christmas and a card for the ones who visited her regularly on their birthdays. The tree in her front yard still bears the mouth, nose and eyes she bought and hung on it to entertain all the neighborhood children. The Mary statue in the backyard is the centerpiece of a small memorial garden some of the neighbors planted for her when Fletch died. It's all I can do to not pull out my gardening shears and trim up the bushes in the front yard which Helen would be doing if she were still here.
Helen died on a Friday. On that Tuesday, the kids came in and reported they had seen her in her car in her driveway and she had spoken to them. Since this information came mostly from Andrea who is somewhat of an inaccurate reporter, we had trouble figuring it out. Helen had been in and out of the hospital for a month or two and as far as we knew was living out her last days in a nearby nursing home. It turned out that on the day before, Helen had just visited with her priest and had been putting her affairs in order. That behind her, she asked her daughter Mary to take her to the casino. She played her slots for the last time, went out for ice-cream and then stopped by the house to sit in the driveway and get one last look at her homestead. She had asked Mary to call the children over when she saw them in the yard and when they came to her, she matter-of-factly stated to them that she was going to be dying soon. With that, Mary drove her back to the nursing home where she died a few days later, peacefully, with her remaining family around her. Helen was very ready to meet up with Mr. Gill and Fletch and Frankie and Melanie again. She was a faithful believer and a model neighbor and friend. She cared for everyone. We miss you, Helen. I can't imagine Mary's heartache and loneliness that must go well beyond our own. And I thank you, Helen, for that last parting gift of your honesty and love toward our children. Andrea is no stranger to profound loss herself and Helen definitely made her own passing much easier for Andrea by sharing her own peace and joy in her last days.
Miss Helen has passed away but our love for her never will.