My friend Helen died yesterday.
I laid in bed this morning and watched the birds darting in and out of the blue spruce at the corner of the house. I watched the tall trees waving in the winds that were blowing hard. Then it started to snow.
All day yesterday the weather whipped back and forth, from rain to blue sky. From calm to fierce winds that broke limbs off of trees. I'll bet there are songs and poems written about March, but I don't feel like looking them up right now.
I met Helen two years ago when I came back to Pawlet to be the pastor of the church. She had been a member of our church and community, but was living in a nursing home in Granville, New York and I went to visit with her there as often as I could.
Many days, early on, I would arrive to find Helen sitting in her wheelchair, looking out the glass door near her room. If it was nice outside I took her out front to sit for a while. Just being outdoors made her happy. Later on, when she was more frail and the weather was uncooperative, I put a bird feeder outside her window. I don't know if she remembered that it was there; I hope it brought her a little pleasure.
Helen's life held many of the stories that helped me situate myself back in this little town. Before her dementia got the better of her, she told me about the dances she attended as a young girl, about her job at Orvis in Manchester, about raising her boys here. We live in the kind of place where everyone knows who everyone is. There are families here that go back many generations and became interwoven over the years through marriage. I loved listening to Helen's stories.
Later on Helen and I mostly sat together. We didn't do much. Sometimes I took her out to the courtyard to eat her dinner. Other times we just held hands. She was very funny and sweet, and increasingly confused about where she was and how long she would be staying there.
A couple of weeks ago I visited Helen on an evening when it was warm outside and I joked with her about wheeling her into town, so we could have a night out together. She loved that idea. And though she was mostly content with her living arrangement, there were times when she just wanted to go back home. "You watch," she told me that night. "One day I'm going to get in my wheelchair and I'm going to roll out of here, and I'm not coming back."
"A wheelchair doesn't need any gas, you know," she said, and I howled. But she meant it. It wasn't a joke.
Wheelchair-free now, I imagine my Helen today, back here in Pawlet, having the time of her life, conjuring up snow and rainbows. Visiting all of her friends and family. It is true, a wheelchair doesn't need any gas. Neither does a beautiful and bright spirit I know named Miss Helen Edmunds.