On March 2, 2017, I got the news that I never wanted to hear. One of the most influential people in my life had passed away, my friend, Helen Frook. I had known Helen almost my entire life. She was a caretaker in every sense of the word. From the time I was around the age of four to the age of ten, I went to Helen and Dave's house almost every weekend while my mom was at work. For many years, Helen would also come to my house to do physiotherapy and to work on my fine motor skills with things like penmanship and cutting out shapes. Cutting out shapes was the worst. You can only cut out so many triangles and squares before you are bored to tears. So, eventually we moved onto magazines and sticker catalogues that Helen used to get in the mail. To this day, I have never stopped cutting things out. Helen truly inspired my love of crafts. She had a big cardboard box that was decorated with Simba wrapping paper that was the crafty equivalent to Mr. Dressup's "Tickle Trunk". I always thought it was the most fancy thing in the world.
Dionne, Helen and I when I graduated Nursery School in 1996.
When we worked on handwriting and printing, the various occupational therapists in my life always told me that I held pens and pencils wrong, so for years I trained my hand to do it properly. We were always trying to find new pencil grips until I didn't need them any more. I also wrote everything in giant letters, but what kid didn't? The therapists always threatened that if I didn't correct these things, they would stay like that, so Helen always pushed me to work hard. Now I am always complimented on how neatly I print or write and I always say how I spent my summers writing things over and over again.
Helen saw so many of my milestones that children my age did naturally and "on time". When I went to college, Helen was so proud, because as she pointed out, when we first met, I couldn't even sit up by myself. I never had a solid plan for what I wanted to go to college for and because of my disability my program changed many times. Helen knew I was worried about being a failure, but she could always make me feel better about anything because she always had such a great outlook on life. She bought me this sign and it was the first picture to get hung up in my apartment. Also, two cookie jars she bought me are on top of my cupboards. I took the top picture of Helen the last time I saw her in 2015, just a few months before I moved to London. At that time, I didn't even know that I would be getting an apartment, but she said,
"Good things come to those who wait".
I just found out that Helen had cancer two weeks ago from my childhood friend, Courtney. Courtney and her sister Brittany were often with me when I was at Helen's and we did a lot together. Unfortunately I don't have many photos on this laptop, but Helen was instrumental in getting my first computer. She applied to The Sunshine Foundation which is very similar to Make A Wish. Part of the process involved "The Sunshine Bear" coming to my house and as you probably know, I am terrified of mascots, so Courtney and Brittany were there for moral support/they were braver than I was.
When Courtney told me about Helen's cancer, I knew there was no one braver than Helen. I asked if I could phone Helen, as I didn't want to bother her. Courtney thought it would be okay and I asked Helen's daughter, Dionne when would be a good time. Courtney explained to me that Helen was very weak and obviously that's what cancer does to a person, but I couldn't wrap my head around it. "Not my Helen" I thought. My Helen was the strongest person I knew. Having watched her husband and grandson go through cancer as well as her granddaughter's battle with a rare blood disorder, Helen was far from weak, but in reality things were different now. When I phoned, I could hear it when she spoke, but I convinced myself she was just tired. I didn't think it would be the last time I heard her voice.
We talked for about ten minutes, which was much shorter than what we used to do, but we covered a lot of ground. She asked about my family and we had a couple of laughs and she said she was glad I was in London so that I could go to concerts and do the things I like to do. When she first answered the phone I didn't know what to say and didn't want to say cancer. So I said, "Courtney told me you aren't feeling well." She said, "No, not right now." But she was straight up and told me they were looking into chemo in a few days. She was so hopeful because a lot of the doctors on her team had treated her husband, Dave. That's what I will always remember about Helen. Even in the darkest of times, she was always full of hope. She told me she'd write my phone number down and we'd stay in touch and I believed that because she gave me hope too. Most importantly, she told me that she had been waiting on my call and it really meant a lot to her that I called. So when Courtney told me that Helen had passed away, all I could think of was, "Not my Helen." Courtney and I talked on Facebook a lot that day and we decided to look at the positives the way Helen would, and the main things we came up with was that she would finally be with Dave and that we got to say goodbye, but we are still incredibly sad.
I was six years old when my Nana died. She had been at the hospital and I stayed overnight at Helen's. Looking back, Helen had been there through most of the big losses in my life, from family members, to friends and pets. She always talked me through them and I thought how am I supposed to get through the loss of Helen without Helen?
My Gramma died when I was 19. She had a heart attack and then a stroke. It was very sad when she was still alive because anyone who knew my dad's mom knew she could yap your ear off and now she couldn't say a word. It was Easter time and I was with my mom's family but my cousin phoned me from the hospital and said I could talk to Gramma on the phone even though she couldn't talk to me. It was one of the saddest moments in my life. My dad and I went to see her the next day. We were the last people to get in to see her and she passed away that night. When it was all over I phoned Helen because she would know what to say.
Later, she sent me a card and lyrics to a song called, "If I Could Just Phone Home". I re-read the card the other day and it felt like Helen was sending me her message now. This was how I was supposed to get through her loss although these thoughts were originally about my Gramma. Just opening the card made me bawl my eyes out because she wrote,
Thank you for your call... I'm so glad we were able to chat the other night because that's what friendship is all about." Then I had to laugh through the tears because Helen made a comment about my Gramma who may be chatting with people who have gone to heaven before her and she wrote "That should keep her busy for quite awhile..,. Don't you think?" Hahahaha. Only Helen could say that,
I want to end this by sharing Helen's thoughts on grief that I will keep close to my heart and I hope her family will too. We miss you so much, Helen!
"Don't be sad, Annette, but instead find those quiet moments to reflect.... We all need more than one guardian angel to take care of us.... Shed your tears when they come to the surface and then dry them with your smiles. The clouds and tears will turn to rainbows of memories and all will be well! [Followed by Helen's classic exclamation mark smiley face.] God Bless! Love & Hugs! -Helen"