Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Helen Powers, Born March 4, 1924, Died at the Age of 86 on February 26, 2011

My mother-in-law passed away suddenly this past Saturday night. It was a shock to everyone because she was not ill. They (meaning the doctors in the emergency room) believe she died of a heart attack. She is survived by her husband of 67 years. My father-in-law will be 91 this Friday.

Her youngest daughter, Christina, and I started going through some of her things yesterday. We didn't know it, but she was fanatical organizer and  'saver'.

We found:

  • The obituary she had written for herself. The only changes we had to make were to the number of great granchildren and living siblings.
  • Hand written instructions for her memorial service, including the praise team she wanted to lead the service, the songs and the specific people she wanted to sing them, and the scripture (Psalm 23) she wanted read.
  • A poem from a magazine printed sometime in 1950's  ~  an ad for Modess Tampons, which disappeared in the late 50's, is on the back of the magazine page.
  • A paper notebook which contained pages of names and addresses of every person from whom she'd received a Christmas card for every year from 1996 to 2010. Beside each name is a red check mark indicating that she had reciprocated with a Christmas card. Christina noted that the list started out with over 100 people and dwindled to around 50 over the 14 year period. 
  • Every single Publisher's Clearing House receipt for every entry she ever mailed, back to the 1980's. She always said, "Somebody has to win. It might be me!"
  • Hand written single sentence words of wisdom and life lessons written on post-it notes.
  • Thousands of return address labels, like the ones sent by Easter Seals and other organizations, all with different pictures, logos and designs for every holiday and event imaginable, so she could personalize every single envelope to the person receiving it.
  • Every single card and letter she received from Emad, the Middle Eastern foreign exchange student who lived with them for a year in the 1970's. She even kept his airline travel papers and luggage tags.
  • A desk drawer full of note and post-it pads because she was a consummate list maker.
  • A zip-lock bag full of assorted pens, in addition to 3 or 4 individual boxes of "good" pens.
  • And, above all, her highly organized system for remembering birthdays and sending birthday cards ~ not just to her children and grandchildren, but great grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and even great nieces and nephews, some of whom she'd never even met....yet.
Everything in every nook and cranny of her room spoke about who she was. A woman who had a great love for her family, no matter how far away or how many generations removed. And she was a letter writer and a card giver and pens and paper and cards were her only modis operandi. She never touched a typewriter or computer. Her penmanship, even into old age, was fluid.

She sent birthday cards, always with a little extra personal note. No plain "Love, Mom & Dad" or "Love, Grandma & Grandpa" or anything else. She took every opportunity to let you know how special you were to her. The same with Christmas cards. No quickly scribbled signature for her. Always...always a personal note. Can you imagine how long it took to write all those 100 Christmas cards?

She sent thank you notes and used the entire open space inside the note to convey her enthusiastically thankful message....for a gift, for a special dinner, for the ride to the grocery store, for that special box of cookies she loved, for the tray of Christmas goodies she was able to share with the other residents at their retirement center.

Over the years, she has shared her recipes and techniques for all the dishes she learned from her mother ~ nut roll, stuffed cabbages, apricot cakes, Easter cheese ~ all handwritten on white stationary or lined binder paper.

For nearly her whole married life, she shopped, cooked, cleaned, mended, organized and loved it, until they moved into the retirement home about 10 years ago; a large white building with a carpeted lobby furnished with over-stuffed sofas and chairs and a large fireplace flanked by a dark stained and carpeted stairway to the second floor. They ate their meals, prepared by kitchen staff, in a large dining room with round tables and upholstered chairs and a woman cleaned and vacuumed their apartment once a week. She said she felt like she was living in a fancy hotel and often declared, "I've died and gone to heaven!"

She was the most cheerful and grateful woman I've ever known and I will miss picking up the phone and hearing her say, "Terri! Isn't this a beautiful day?!"

Rest In Peace Mom.


gina said...

I'm so sorry for your loss, Terri. Helen sounds like a lovely woman and someone I would have liked a lot.

Terri said...

Thank you Gina.