A letter to Helen on her 50th

To my dearest, darlingest most Helenest of Helens,

Today is your 50th birthday. Today marks the 2nd anniversary of the last of your birthdays I will ever share with you. For 29 years, I would go to wherever you were to share your birthday – all except the one you spent OS and I was unable to join you because of family needs. But even then, we simply postponed our birthday celebrations and we had them together a month or so later when you got back.

I have 29 years of fun and laughter-filled memories, memories of shared worries and sadness, memories of holding and being held, memories of listening and being listened to, of sharing and growing and just simply being Leisl and Helen.

Those memories will always be there to comfort and turn to, but they will never grow more than they already are and despite my promise to cry only happy tears over you, the hole your passing left in my life, in my heart, at times like this, just feels so big and wide and like it can only be filled with tears that are anything but happy.

However, I will try to honour your promise and remember all those other birthdays, the ones where we had no concept of how numbered your years truly were, where we laughed and danced and played and whispered and sang and talked and talked and talked … and talked. I will even try hard to remember the beauty of that last birthday, your 48th birthday. At that birthday, even though the words ‘terminal’ had been uttered and tucked away, there was still the hope that we would be able to share a 49th. But things went south much faster than anyone at that time thought they would and you were gone within months.

However, because you were so wonderfully, brilliantly, always you on that day, despite the horrible wound, that chasm of loss that was your passing, I can still look back on that last birthday with a smile as, like you insisted on for all your other birthdays, it was filled with happiness, love and laughter. And even though you will never make it to this one – your 50th, the one we had such plans for – I will raise a glass and smile and laugh and talk and sing just like we did at every other birthday. I have talked to your girls and checked that they are okay and sent them my love. I have laughed and happy-cried over photos of us and you being you. And if Covid-19 is stopping me from going out and eating our traditional foods we often ate, and have our traditional massages we often shared, then I can at least order in and celebrate your birthday with the boys you always called ‘your precious boys’ – your Claytons hubby, Mark (my beloved) and your two godsons, Jacob and Nathaniel, who you loved so much and who loved their Aunty Helen in a way that always made my heart sing to see.

Still, I have to take a moment, here, if at no other time today, to express my anger and grief. It still strikes me as innately unfair that life was ripped from you so young. How someone so good and kind, who was always there for others no matter the shattering times you suffered through, who gave herself over to a job that was about helping others and who gave so much of yourself to your community, giving of your time and talents for your local school and for larger charities with as much enthusiasm and vigour as you did for anything else in your life, has been taken from us all. It seems so impossible that you – with all the force of your remarkable and giving personality wrapped in such a little package – is gone. How can such a necessary energy be wiped from this world?

I still don’t know how you managed to talk me in to all the things you talked me into except for the fact it was you and nobody said no to you. You made me garden – garden! And go shopping for craft material. And sew! And go see Neil Diamond with you (I have to admit, that one I did enjoy). You thought nothing of having me picked up from the airport and driven to where you were at the hospital helping out in the Ronald McDonald House feeding all the people there with the rest of your ambo friends and just slipping me in as an extra helper when I got there. And how could I say no when you asked me to fly up to help you (I think you actually termed it ‘slave labour’) in three days of food preparation for your elegant afternoon tea where you raised thousands of dollars for charity? And I wasn’t the only one who spent time doing things like that just because you asked.

Of course, the reason why people never said no was because it was a joy to do something with you that filled you with so much joy. Such a remarkable force of nature, one that touched so many lives in a positive way, should not have been taken from us all so soon. How is that possible? I still rail in the dark about that, wanting to scream at the moon again as we did after your diagnosis. But that is a question that can never be answered and does nothing more than make me heavy with sadness at the futility of it. Good people are taken all the time – you are just one of them. It’s not fair and I would change it with my last breath if I could, but I can’t, so that leaves me writing to you, on this, your 50th birthday.

I miss you so much, my beautiful friend. Every day, I miss you. Every day I make certain I smile as I remember you, even as sadness tinges my smile and tears flood my eyes. I blink them away and fill my head with your laughter, and I am most particularly trying to do that today – any one of your laughs will do: the wicked one, the mischievous one, the loud bark, the soft giggle, the silent one followed by a snort. I remember your big fluffy mop of dark curly hair, the short spiky hair, the blonde hair, the crimped hair. I remember all the glasses and the way you’d push them up your nose in that particular way you had. I remember doing up your big eyes in your liquid eyeliner after you bought it and all the shopping – so much shopping!

I remember how you decided to make sure your last few months were filled with pretty and how every day you felt well enough was a parade of your new outfits – the ones you’d bought when you visited that last January – and make up applied that made your cheeks glow, your lips glisten and your eyes look more vibrant and larger than ever. There was also the joy of getting my nails done with you in those last few months, the wicked, naughty, funny names of you gave the colours – Blood of my Enemies and Fuck you all Fuchsia are still my two favourites.

I remember how we were there for each other through the difficult and happy times – my conversion, your break-ups, my CFS and migraines, your cancers, my IVF trials and difficult and traumatic births, your difficulties during and after pregnancies, our graduations, our weddings, our children, our finding the work and hobbies that made our hearts sing, the holidays we shared, the laughing until our cheeks and stomachs hurt.

I remember your ferocious hugs, the way you tucked under my chin, the stickiness of your lipstick on my cheek that I was never allowed to wipe off no matter where we were because you thought it was so funny to mark your friends and loved ones like that – my boys still talk about your lipstick kisses with so much laughter and love. It was something they looked forward to every time you visited. I think if they could have kept the kiss mark, they would have – thankfully you kissed Nate’s diary, so we have the imprint of your love there.

I feel you, often, standing with me, looking over me and mine, whispering words of encouragement, kicking me up the arse when needed – you were past-master at the loving kick-up-the-butt and pull-your-head-in manoeuvres. But even though I feel you, I still miss you. I think I always will.

They say time heals all wounds, but I don’t think that’s true. I think as time passes, we just get used to the loss, the aching sadness, so that it doesn’t feel so big, so all-encompassing anymore. I keep you – the hole you left, alongside the love and friendship you sewed there when we met – with me at all times. I treasure that you were my friend and I had you in my life for the time I did and because of the depth and strength of our friendship, always will.

Cheers on your 48th Birthday

For now, I will do everything you asked me to do and I will force myself to stop being sad and instead fill this day with as much love and laughter and you as I can.

Happy Birthday my dearest most Helenest of Helens. I love you – yesterday, now, tomorrow and every day after that.

Hoppy-frog tomato, beautiful girl.



2 Comments on “A letter to Helen on her 50th”

  1. A most beautiful ode to an adored friend. Searingly heartfelt and a privilege to read. No words can help, but sending hugs for your hurt. How blessed to have such precious, lifelong memories. They, and Helen, will be part of you always. xo

    1. Thanks so much Chris. Yes, I do feel very blessed and the memories help – but having her still here with me would have been so much better.

Leave a Reply