Life

Helen Elizabeth Burnson, April 27, 1923 – July 15, 2014

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My grandma — my dad’s mom — was a very special lady. I had always prayed she would live to see me married and having kids; I was born on her birthday, plus I was her first granddaughter, so I feel like we’ve always shared a special bond. I have so many fond memories of playing at her house; rifling through her jewelry drawers, playing with dolls, pretending to be a dog under the table while she fed me cheese squares, feeding the stray animals that came to her back door… so many memories.

She turned 91 years old this year. To me, grandma Helen seemed like someone who would never die; she still lived on her own, cooked for herself, sewed little projects, and made friends with everyone in her apartment complex. As a young woman, she rode the bus everywhere– and still would have, if we had let her — and handed out tracts to people as she rode. She and my grandpa met because she thought he was cute, so she invited him to Bible Study. He died when I was nine, but my grandma kept on going. She only just started to get gray hair in her eighties.

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Helen was never able to have children of her own, so she and my grandpa adopted four kids, my dad being the oldest. What makes it more special is that she unknowingly prayed for my dad before he was even born. At her church, she and my birth-grandma Darlene’s mom were secret sisters (like secret Santa; you get a name, exchange secret anonymous gifts and prayer requests and etc and after a few months you meet your secret sister). One day, my grandma Helen received a card from my birth-great-grandma asking for prayer for an unspoken request.

That request? Her daughter, my dad’s birth mom, who had already been married once and had three young sons to take care of, was pregnant and her fiance had left her. She couldn’t afford to keep the baby. Nine months later, unknowingly, my grandma Helen adopted that baby– the one she’d been praying for through secret sisters.

Being my grandma Helen, she peeked at the adoption papers and discovered the name, but had no idea who it was at the time.

Throughout the years, my dad and his three older brothers went to the same school — but were a few grades apart — the same picnics at church events, the same peoples’ houses; they lived in the same areas, went to the same church for a while, and knew a lot of the same people. But it wasn’t until I was 13 that we met my birth grandmother, and, being grandma, Helen immediately made friends with her. Helen always made sure Darlene knew all of the family news, and was only overjoyed to share my dad’s life with another woman.

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Today, at 4:25PM, she passed away. After having had a massive stroke last Thursday morning and not having been found until Friday afternoon, there was no hope that she could live. Yet, despite half of her brain being damaged, half of her body being paralyzed, and being unable to eat because her kidneys had shut down, grandma continued to live for another five days. She was able to squeeze hands, crinkle her eyes in smiles, and minutely respond to the hundreds of people that came to see her at the Hospice.

When it was announced at her church that she’d had a stroke and was in hospice, about half of the service promptly got up and left to see her, without waiting for the service to go on. Somewhere around 200 people just that day who came to show their love and support; she had apparently sent cards to nearly everyone in church on their birthdays. And as people spoke around her, there were tears in her eyes.

Grandma Helen was an amazing woman, beloved by so, so many people — people she genuinely cared about. When she spoke to you, she was interested. She once told my brother that when you meet a person, you should find out what they are passionate about, so that when you speak to them again, you can always talk to them about what they love. And you felt that; she made you feel as though you were the most special person in her life at that moment. She loved everyone, gave to everyone, cared for everyone, fed everyone, and shared Jesus with everyone. And though she didn’t have much, she would give whatever she could if you needed something.

She was funny, talkative, sensitive, giving, personable, interesting, loving, creative, open, kind-hearted, full of love and life and God. I want to be just like her.

It is bittersweet for us that she is finally gone, but this day is a joyous for her. For today, she meets Jesus, face to face.  Grandma

We love you, grandma. And we will see you again.