My Days of "Helening" - by Karen McCormick
I have had the privilege to work for a woman named Helen Stewart. She was one of the most fascinating people I have ever known, not to mention a unique boss. This came from the dignity she presented in the simple life she led. Although Helen had a disease that limited her dialogue, she could communicate better than most people. She was very clear on what she wanted and where she was headed. I learned so much from her. She was a great example of how one should cherish life and enjoy every moment. Helen did not let her disease stop her from living the best way she knew how. Her desire for bingo, Wii bowling and long car rides kept her days filled with joy and challenges.
Thankfully, Helen raised her son Tom to have that same respect and joy for life that she did. Tom and his loving wife Karen were able to provide Helen with the greatest quality of care during her last years. They sent five women to spend time and befriend Helen. I was one of those five. If only I could have video taped some of our fun days together. She would make me laugh harder than girlfriends my own age.
It was her natural personality that brought laughter to me. She knew who she liked and who she didn’t. This was a great lesson she taught me. You can respect others but its ok not to like them. Everyone that came in contact with Helen found her to be adorable.
The “Helen Experience” made me realize that this is how I may want to spend more of my time. She opened my eyes to living a no bull$%^& life. There was a safe haven around Helen because she was a survivor of many sorts throughout her life. The “Helen yearn” to go and do, became quite contagious! I referred to my workdays as “Helening,” although “Helening” was hardly working, it was fun. Some of the things we did together were radical in the sense of an Alzheimer’s patient. But Helen never let that disease stop her spirit, and she was up for almost anything as long as it involved driving in the car. Here is a snapshot of some of my days “Helening”:
Trips to Shadybrook Farm for Treats
I made her try a chocolate covered banana and she actually laughed at it and gave me her notorious response of “tadadaarada”. When the next line came “I got nothing”….I knew right away she wanted to trade the banana in for a strawberry ice-cream cone.
Sally Beauty and Getting Pulled Over by the Police
This was one of our first adventures out on the town; it was to a beauty shop. Helen got a little nervous so we left. However, on the ride home I got pulled over by a cop for going through what I thought was a yellow light. As soon as the cop came over to the window, Helen protected me and scolded the officer with once again her notorious “taddadarada” language and yes the officer agreed with Helen and let me off the hook with no ticket.
Shopping at TJ Maxx
Helen and I were starting to get good at this going out stuff. We would fix ourselves up with lipstick and blush, as if we were two teenagers going to the dance. This day was a blast, we window-shopped for a good hour and Helen picked a sweater set to fit her fancy.
Little League Baseball Game
Helen sang “Take me out to the ball game” on our way to my 10-year-old son’s baseball game. We actually sat for 4 innings munching on hotdogs, ice-cream and of course her favorite -ginger ale. She cheered and followed much of the game.
Bowling with the Kids
We went to watch my kids play bowling with their Grandmother, and they were thrilled to have her as their audience. So much so, that my 10 and 12 year old daughters wouldn’t stop talking at Helen, to the point of annoyance. Finally, Helen had to give them a hand jester shooing them away. Finally the girls got the hint that she really didn’t like girls as much as boys.
To the McCormick Home for Cookies and Tea
Helen enjoyed sitting with my kids while eating Pepperidge Farm cookies and chitchatting. She was so cute; at times she would extend a cookie to one of my children as if she were the one serving the treats. They fell in love with her, even if she took more to my son than my daughters.
Tanning Salon Visit
This had to be one of the most radical outings we accomplished. I was going through my mid life crisis and got a spray tan a few days prior to working with Helen. After the tan settled, my face needed a quick touch up spray and I was able to get an appointment during my time “Helening”. I thought this could be a cool thing to do during our daily ride. Helen and I walked into the salon with our heads held high and went right to the room where the tan was to be administered. The worker came in and saw us both holding hands assuming we were both getting a facial spray tan. Of course, only I got the spray tan. Helen was a great sport just holding my hand and watching. My boss gave her cue of “tadaddarada” and on that note I looked fabulous and off we went for another ride into the sunset.
Day in the Dining Room
This was like a scene out of the movie “The Notebook.” I reported to work at 9 am and could not find Helen in her usual spot in the hall lounging chair. I looked around and found her in the dining area playing with sugar at a table smiling and having a blast with the waitresses. It was as if she was throwing her own private party. On this day, I had my son Jake with me. As we approached Helen she was speaking as if she no longer had her illness. She pointed to her head and said “it’s my mind, that does not work.” This was a fascinating moment. She began to say very clearly, how much she loved the waitresses and pulled them down to her seat to kiss them on their cheeks. She continued designing the sugar onto the table into a very pretty piece of art. I believe this was a signal that she was truly loving and happy underneath what the illness was hiding. I thank my dear friend Karen Curry and her husband Tom for entrusting me with their loved one. It was a gift to me to have known Helen Stewart and to name her my “girlfriend.” I will treasure our unique time together and hope to pass on what the “Helen Experience” taught me. Helen I have no doubt that you are in a happy place and I can feel your youthfulness and beauty shining in heaven. I know you are so grateful to Tom and Karen for giving you the love they did. May you rest in peace while you play bingo, WII bowling, dance, sing, drink scotch and of course go for those long and wonderful car rides.