Remembering Helen – Five Minute Friday

I’m not at all sure how this will come out, as the prompt this week brought to mind something that happened to me a couple of times lately — a memory was stirred. And having that happen twice in a week, well. . . it makes me think this is something I’m supposed to get down. So, I’ll try to do it in 5 minutes and link it up with Lisa-Jo and the gang this week:
Five Minute Friday

The view from that hill . . . a little closer to the sea.



The road winds up the hill, the hill that opens up to the sea. And every time I drive up that road, I remember Helen. She was such a small thing, dark-haired, pixie-eyed, full of sweetness and light. Byron asked me to go and see her. She was a friend of a friend and she was in Santa Barbara to receive a new treatment in her battle against lung cancer.

I was brand new to my job as Associate Pastor and I was pretty new to visitation, especially when the person was unknown to me and critically ill. But I went – how could I not? She was delightful – vibrant, open, seeking, devoted to her family and to her Lord. She wanted someone to talk to, to pray with, to help her face into the realities that were coming at her faster than a freight train.

Oh, how I loved her!

I met with her about a dozen times over the next few months. She would travel back and forth to her home in Arizona in between treatments, staying with friends when she was here. Eventually, she stayed for longer and longer periods of time and the family rented a house up on the bluff, a house with a distant view of the deep blue sea.

Each visit, she seemed smaller, shrinking into herself in some ways, but pouring herself out in others. Her eyes always sparkled, her smile never wavered. Oh, her voice got weaker and finally, she couldn’t walk very far at all, choosing to stay in bed or in a chair nearby. But her spirit? Indomitable.

She died quietly, here in Santa Barbara, and the family asked me to create a memorial service for her in our small chapel so that all those in this town who loved her could come and remember and worship together. 

That chapel was full, I’ll tell you. She was small, yes, she was. But her heart was huge and her sweet smiles and soft words reached out to dozens of friends. 

That was almost seventeen years ago. And every time I drive up that hill, I glance to my left, to the street that sloped up and around the bend. And I remember the gift of Helen, the first of many friends I walked with to the end of the road.


2 extra minutes

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  1. If you had two minutes left over after writing that, my friend, then there is absolutely nothing wrong with your writing muscles!

    One of your privileges as a pastor is to walk to the end of that road with people you are not related to. I remember when my mother’s Anglican priest came to give her communion two days before she died. He hadn’t seen her in a month, and she had grown smaller, like you describe here. He wept at her bedside, and she comforted him.

    • Oh, no, Megan! That note meant I went two minutes OVER the 5 minutes. :>) And yes, you are right – it is one of the privileges of being a pastor. I’ve often wondered if I could do a small series about some of the people I’ve been privileged to walk with. But I fear many might find it sort of morbid. I’ve told many people that one of my favorite parts of pastoring was this ministry – and that doing funerals were richer and more moving than doing weddings. I enjoy weddings, but I put memorial services almost in the sacramental category. Weird, right? Those last looks are the hardest. I remember telling a friend, the first person I ever visited who was near death, that she looked like she was getting ready to be born. And I truly do believe that. Death is a kind of birth, to a new, rich life.

  2. I love the imagery of walking to the end of the road with someone. Such a peaceful, congenial picture of family members or friends, walking in unfamiliar territory, supporting one another, reminiscing, dreaming of the future possibilities (in heaven) until one must rest– in the arms of Jesus.

    I’m also thinking: Thank you, God, for the gift of memory. Even a curve in the road can remind us of a special person. And thank you for the legacy of those dear ones who are now with you. Their powerful examples live on in our hearts, inspiring us to be better than we are.

    Thank you, Diana, for your inspiring words.

    • Thanks for stopping by and leaving your usual, encouraging words, Nancy. It is unfamiliar territory, but it does not have to be lonely.

  3. Sounds as though you were a true gift to one another. What a blessing.

    • We were, Brandee, we truly were. She was just a bit older than me at the time and now, I am older than she was when she died. Strange. . .

  4. Thank you for sharing such a beautiful memory. What a blessing!

  5. This is lovely Diana. You’ve made Helen so real to me. You have a gift for loving well my friend.

  6. I also like the words you wrote about walking to the end of the road with a person you love. I was able to stay with my father in the hospital the last week of his life. I would sleep in the chair next to him so my mother could go home to rest. I just couldn’t leave him. The one thing I knew is I wouldn’t be able to be there at the time of his death, I didn’t think I could handle it and I had been letting the Lord know of how I was feeling. My sister came in the room and said I should go get a little rest, so I did. It wasn’t but ten minutes and my sister came and told me that dad had died. Now twenty years latter my mother is about at the end and I had been talking to the Lord about my wanting to be with my mother when she leaves this world and I was, sitting with her, holding her hand as she passed on to her new life with our Lord. The Lord is so good, He knew just what was right for me as I walked that road to the end with my wonderful parents the Lord gave me.

    • Nancy, thank you so much for sharing these tender memories with me. And the Lord does know what is right for each of us. Your own experiences underline that good truth so well.

  7. Wow! I shared this on Facebook, because it is too good not to share with the world! (Not that you didn’t just do that!) Thank you for sharing this memory!

  8. What a blessing for you to be able to call Helen a friend and then be able to serve her in her last days here on earth. My husband and I have been in full-time ministry now for 2 years. Although we work with teens, I know there will be some that will have a lasting impact on us just as Helen has had on you. Thx for sharing with us at FMF.

  9. Stoping by from FMF, Diana. What a powerful reminder that it’s not our vessels but what we allow Jesus to pour through us that counts.

  10. This was a special piece for me, Diana, and I thank you for it. My hubby is gifted in this ministry, but I am not. I find it dreadfully difficult. It is my fervent hope that God uses me in other ways… in situations where my strengths are helpful… because I have no words in such times. I’m much more capable manipulating words on a page than I am face to face.

    • You’re welcome, Carol. And please do not apologize in any way. We all receive different gifts, and answer to different calls. This is not a ministry for everyone – and before I began it, I would have said it was not a ministry for me! I was terrified the first time I stood with a friend who was dying. But the fear was soon simply overwhelmed with the sense of holiness. To stand on the threshold with someone is simply amazing. And you know what? There is no need for a lot of words. And the ones I use? Most often, they are the prayers and scriptures from the BOCP. My very favorite one:

      Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your
      servant ________. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of
      your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your
      own redeeming. Receive him/her into the arms of your mercy,
      into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the
      glorious company of the saints in light. Amen.

      • Oh, and Carol? One of my very most favorite things to do is to sing hymns around the person’s bed, hopefully with members of the family who know what their favorites are. THAT, I know you could do.

  11. Walking to the end of the road. What a beautiful line. I think it’s a true gift to be able to ferry someone over well. I like that you continue to think of her and that the memory of her brought forth this post, Diana.

  12. The thing about these five minute posts… sometimes it’s hard to stop. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. But if you know you only have to write for five minutes, it’s easier to sit down to start. 🙂

    You were definitely a gift to Helen in her last days.