I am writing this picturing our Sunday school class sitting in front of me giving prayer requests. Some of you are sipping coffee or a diet soda. Others brought a little plate of breakfast treat in from the cafe.
Chris just shared that it is some obscure Jewish holiday and I played it off like I knew what he was talking about. You all chuckled like you always did cause you were sweet like that, but the beautiful silver haired lady in the front row leaned over and whispered in a voice loud enough to be heard in the back, “Chris is so good to remind us of these things.” To which her equally handsome white haired husband would have shushed her loud enough to shake me off my chair.
Gene and Helen.
And now as of October 30th for those of us still walking around here amongst the living; it is just Gene. Our dear Helen passed away peacefully and the world has been a bit sadder for us who loved her and were loved by her.
Where do I start?
I could say she was like a mom to me but that would not do her justice.
She was a mentor, a friend, a sister and yes, a mom who filled the gap where I needed one.
She was also the woman who held court over the monthly knitting group I joined just so I could spend that much more time with her.
In this group we knit squares.
And they had to be the right size with the right length of yarn left at the end and you best know if they were wool or acrylic before you went to turn them in.
Because she was going to box them all up and pay a huge sum of money and send them to an organization in Africa that would stitch them together with squares from all around the world for the orphans of Aids.
She would cry telling you about these little children and show you pictures of them wrapped in these colorful hand knit blankets. Her passion made you want to try harder to make sure you got that square the right size. You learned to read content labels because wool just burns but acrylic melts, and these orphans who live around open fires have had enough trouble in their lives. And how on earth an orphan in Africa remembers which kind of yarn his or her blanket is made of was a question you never dared ask.
Helen gave each new knitter a cardboard square that had been carefully cut by Gene, who as far as I know would have walked through fire himself for her.
Passing through the lobby at church one Monday night , I had seen her moving around the tables of knitters and I immediately wanted to sign on. I had some old needles and it would mean I would get to sit with her for a couple of hours once a month.
After attending several sessions and still working on my first square, with copious amounts of encouragement for how well I was progressing, she presented me with a set of wooden knitting needles. She explained that the long metal ones I was using were probably hard to work with and these would be much easier. I treasure them as you can well imagine, but even more the rich addition knitting has brought to me as she cheered me and others on to bigger projects.
When Debbie attempted to make a hat, Helen held it up proudly to all of us. As Helen beamed and carried it around, we all admired this effort of our friend and if that’s not the fellowship of believers, I am not sure what is.
I don’t think I can adequately describe in the sisterhood of women what Helen’s brand of encouragement reaped. She had a way of bringing us together without competition which is sometimes rare in the female population. Instead she shepherded us to share patterns and techniques and to appreciate the skill of more gifted knitters and crocheters while we helped a newbie untangle her first ball of yarn.
I wasn’t the only one who was given a pair of needles or a place at the table or a pattern for some new project. Giving was part of who Helen was. Love flowed out of her in giving, and yes it may have been advice or instruction or correction; but it was often a tangible thing that would help you do better. She moved through life giving, not taking.
As I was trying to gather my thoughts to share, I remember visiting her home so she could share with me about how to organize and store my photos and then assemble them into some kind of keepsake treasure for our family to know their story. She gave me a small box to begin my journey, instructing me to start with that. She wouldn’t even let me purchase a larger organizer until I had mastered the small steps.
Another visit to a smaller condo had her showing me photos of family and sharing her prayers she prayed for each as tears flowed down her sweet face. She would share her own knitting projects, articles she had asked Gene to copy for me, and stories of the people who were part of her story.
One day she cried as she grieved the passing of her childhood friend in Chicago who had taught her English. Being the daughter of immigrants, she treasured this first friend and kept in touch her whole life. Side note from the title of this post, Dyakuyu means thank you very much and is the one Ukrainian phrase she taught me.
I was introduced through conversations with her to many other friends she had known over the years, her children and grandchildren and even the foreign exchange student they had hosted who was like a daughter to them.
As I went through my memories of her I realized how many times I sat with her at church, in their living room as they moved to various independent living settings and in nursing facilities as she would be convalescing from surgeries to try and fix a body that brought her much pain. I never had enough time with her.
After her death, one of their children posted a picture of her and Gene taken not long ago. She was seated on one end of the couch with a stack of papers on her lap and face bent reading something. Gene was leaning back against her watching TV I suppose.
I would imagine she would from time to time have tried to share something she was reading and he would have gruffly asked what she had said and she would have said it louder and he still wouldn’t have heard her. She would have tried one more time to penetrate his loss of hearing and he would have finally waved his hand at her that would end the exchange and go back to his viewing and she to her reading but with a bit of an attitude. To the casual observer this exchange might have looked like a wounding from friendly fire, but that was Gene and Helen.
H.H. I miss you. I miss knowing that you exist somewhere on planet earth. You loved well and your influence on my life makes me stand up a little straighter, pray a lot harder, cherish my people more, and want to make the time to invest in mentoring those coming behind me. I carry your tears and your smile, your sly humor and your wisdom in my heart. I hope I get to a spot near you in eternity. Thanks for taking me in to your circle. My life is better for having known you <3