Animal welfare, less formally known as compassionate living and a love for animals, was a fire lit within me by my grandmother. Helen encouraged me to respect all living beings at an early age, never by telling me to do so, but because she led by example. My father had a significant influence as well, but since he too learned from her, today I remember the source of that love – in celebration of Helen’s birthday.
Alzheimer’s ruthlessly robbed valuable pieces of Helen’s memory over the years, and I have long missed my connection with sweetest woman I have ever known. Now that her beautiful soul has flown, I believe her spirit has been set free to soar through the ethos, no longer bound by earthly separation and limitation. And I am free to remember the woman who was and who is now whole again, not the still-darling but deteriorating woman who no longer knew me.
Memory. Relationships depend upon it. And so I remember.
Becoming custodian of thousands of family photographs, it became obvious during my sorting that most were taken by my grandmother – as typically noted by her absence from the frame. As much as I’d love to see more images of her, I take tremendous pleasure in seeing the world that she loved through her eyes. Here are some of Helen’s favorite memories from 1948 to 1969, the years her children were growing up with their many animal friends.
What Alzheimer’s could never steal away was Helen’s love for Ralph, her beloved husband and my grandfather, and every small, sweet being that she and Ralph had ever encountered. Animal Welfare wasn’t a term these two would likely use. But whether they encountered dogs, cats, crows, geese, rabbits, raccoons, squirrels, or children, they loved (and often fed) them all. And where children and animals connected, Helen and Ralph’s cup runneth over.
Even in assisted living, as Helen’s vocabulary began to slip away with her memories of Ralph’s passing, she sometimes worried. She worried about where Ralph was … and whether the birds outside her window would survive a Western NY winter without her scraps of breakfast, lunch, dinner, and desert.
This is truly a tribute to both of my grandparents because each took pride in teaching their family together. They were a unified front in guiding the best interests of their children and grandchildren and in caring for one another.
To leave Helen and this earth in 2003, after celebrating a November birthday in the hospital, was incredibly difficult for Ralph. When his birthday in the great beyond came this November, he received the greatest gift of all, my grandmother.
Ralph has been waiting, Dear Helen. May your eternal love bring you together once more. I imagine you young, as in love as you’ve been since you met, and with the whole world set before you. Enjoy the dance.
To you both:
I love you for who you are.
I thank you for making me who I am.
Photo (right): 1943 – My grandparents, Ralph and Helen, freshly married and on a date at the New Como Club in Western, NY.