When Helen was a young woman, on Saturday evening, she would walk with her little daughter Patti to the newsstand at the corner of 106th and Ewing,
And buy a Sunday paper from Gene, who could only use one hand. Then they would go to Bendonelli’s soda fountain and get a cherry coke, which was not like the cherry coke you get in aluminum cans or liter size bottles at the grocery store. They mixed the coke with the cherry syrup right there in the store, especially for you. Therefore it was better in all respects.
Helen taught the nursery class of Sunday School at church. When it was time to practice Christmas pageant, she would pack a lunch, bring the kids with her on two busses. You had to get on one, get off at a bus stop, wait for a different bus, get on that one and take it to church. This is what they did every Sunday. They would go to church, then eat their lunch after church, then go to the penny candy store and get a piece of candy, then come back in time for Pageant practice.
Helen raised her three children on next to nothing.
She was proud. Sometimes people would leave a basket of food on her front porch, she would say “There are other people that need this food more than we do.” She wouldn’t take her dentures out when she went to the doctor. One time she went in for surgery and she had to take them out. So she keeps her hand over her mouth like this, and when they ask her a question, she lifts up her hand. “Yes.” “No.”
She was a tough woman, and full of energy and dry wit. But things were not always perfect in those days. There were really, really hard times. Helen said that her one regret was that she did not divorce her husband sooner.
But she did divorce him, and eventually married Dwayne. She was happy with Dwayne, square dancing and doing scouts and going out to dinner. She treated his children as if they were her own.
Duane, Wendy and Sherry.
When Duane died, Bobby would come over and take care of her lawn for her, making sure that everything was in its proper order. This is a way of showing someone that you love them. She knew.
When Patti got really sick, she moved down from Chicago to take care of her. That is also a way of saying that you love someone. And Patti knew.
When Patti started getting better, Helen became more active at St. John. She helped in the kitchen. Shared her dry wit. The children loved her, flocked to her like the pied piper.
Even when she got sick, kids would encourage her. Walking along on her walker, “Come on, Miss Helen, you can make it.” When she was having trouble eating, “Miss Helen, better finish you fish sandwich.”
Speaking of eating, Helen would keep her food in her mouth in the last years. So Patti would say, Momma, have you swallowed your food?” “Yes.” “Really, Momma?” “No.” “Momma are you trying to tease me?” “Yes.”
On one of the several occasions when she had gone to the hospital and we weren’t sure if she’d make it out or not, I went to see her. Patti had stepped out of the room to take care of something. Her son Jimmy was sitting by the bed. He would sit with her. Even though he was very, very sick, and in fact died before she did, he would sit with her. I leaned over and asked her one of those questions that I learned when I was a chaplain. “Helen, wat is the most important thing to you right now?”
She fixes me with that one blue eye of hers. She says “I want to get up out of this bed.” I looked up at Jimmy, who half smiled and nodded. I said “Okay, we have a clear agenda here.” And she did. She got out of bed. She walked again, on a walker and with help but she did. For a while.
The last time she got sick, Patti said something that she had said before. “Momma, you don’t have to keep fighting if you don’t want to. I will be okay. You can go on to God if you want. Don’t’ feel like you have to keep on fighting for me.”
Less than two days later she was gone.
“I have fought the good fight. I have run the race I have kept the faith. These are words that can very easily be used about Helen Brooks.
A lot of other words can be used as well. Because life is not always easy. Sometimes it is very very hard. But “I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth nor anything else in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Yea though I walk through the valley of death, I shall fear no evil. They rod and thy staff they comfort me.
For God so loved the world that he gave his holy son that all who believe in him might not perish but might have eternal life.
For everything there is a time, and a season for every purpose under heaven.
It was time. It was time. I know that we can always say, “Well, maybe if we had done this, or if they had done that, we might have had a few more moments of being together. And none of us are perfect, so yes, there’s always something more that we could do. But there comes a time. Because of your care, Pattie, Helen had so many more moments of blessing than she would have otherwise. You have done a fantastic job of taking care of your Mom. But the time comes, sooner or later.
In the church, when someone dies, we do two things. We say good-by and we say hello.
We say good-by to who Helen was. She is not here. Death has snatched her away. There is a gaping hole where she once was. We can’t see her or touch her or hear her any more. We grieve. That’s part of being human, to grieve.
It hurts, because we love her. We may grieve in many ways. We may cry. WE might feel angry. That’s okay. We may want to take some quiet time by ourselves. Often, we grieve by telling a persons’ stories. Who was Helen to us? What did she mean to us? What are the stories about her that you can tell each other?
We say good-by to who she once was. We let her go, let her go into the hands of God. Trust God to hold her and care for her. Let her go.
We also say hello. We say hello to who Helen is today.
Hello Helen, I’m so glad you are feeling better today. I see that you have got your left eye back, and that you can see. Oh, the things you can see. You can see the bright colors of springtime coming, even when we can’t see it ourselves. You can see the stars of galaxies a billion light-years away. Such beauty. You can see your grandchildren’s and great grandchildren’s smiles as they dream. You can see the depth of God’s hope coming. You can see.
And I see that you are up out of that bed. You said you wanted to be. There you are walking, running, doing cartwheels and handstands, and dancing. Square dancing with Duane. Square dancing with Jimmy. Bowling like you used to. Think they have bowling in heaven? Maybe that’s where thunder really comes from.
See you with your dry wit, making jokes with the angels.
And she is with us, present, and loving us still.
“I have fought the good fight. I have run the race. I have kept the faith.” These words do describe Helen. “And you have received the crown of righteousness. Hello Helen. Welcome home.