Helen Benner : From A Family's Memories
August 17 1922 July 23 2007
Helen Benner was a middle child of nine children, eight of whom survived, born to immigrant parents. Her steel mill machinist father and homemaker mother instilled in their children the values of family, hard work and most of all, a profound love of God. Her childhood was happy and active, lived on a shoestring and a prayer. She was her mama's girl, tied strongly to those apron strings. She often told of her family living next to a church, with many beggars and strangers coming to their door in the mistaken belief that their house was the parsonage. Her mother and father never let a single one leave without food and a kind word. Her parents' kindness and generosity lived on and grew in their children. Their inspiration was their quiet, unshakeable faith in God.
Her siblings were her life and her closest friends. Her circle of love increased one day when her beauty and kindness drew a certain fellow to her at work. She had always said she didn't want to marry, just be at home with her folks and family. But this certain fellow and his gentle spirit and gentlemanly actions soon changed her mind! And in 1951 they embarked together on a 55.75 year adventure of exemplary love and grace filled married life. Through all their life together as husband and wife, she referred to Ludi as "her boyfriend." The first few years were easy, carefree years. They had a child, and were expecting another one. Days after their second daughter was born, the fairy tale took a tough turn polio struck her down. Her brother likes to tell a story about her iron lung days in the hospital. When he came to visit her, she indicated the patients on either side of her. She said to him, "They're not going to make it." He asked why. She replied, "They're men. Men don't have the same fight in them as women do." She battled her way back; they didn't. She was so strong, so brave, so determined, so trusting in the Lord. She needed to get well for her 1 week old and 20 month old and her beloved husband and family. God mercifully returned her to her family, and she was grateful every day of her life for that gift. She and Ludi continued throughout their lives to model that complete trust and unshakeable faith in God, to their daughters and everyone else who met them. Unbeknown to her, she touched lives with her stories. Here is what one of Bill Carey's sisters wrote in the recent weeks:
"Life does give us hard times, but God's Grace is bigger. Although at times, it is hard to feel it... that is why we are just to know it. I wanted to share with you how special your Mom is to me. Long before I became a Christian, she told me about her experience of her trip up the stairs to heaven and how she was told to come back to her family. I had read about near death experiences, but had never met anyone that had had one. But I knew right away that your Mom was telling me the ABSOLUTE truth and there was a heaven! This was a wonderful hope for me, but it would still be years before I would learn how to reach heaven for myself. Your mom gave me a MOST wonderful gift on that day. She is very blessed and I pray for Peace for all of you. I love you, Peggy "
Yes, generosity, gift giving, sunshine spreading, those were specialties of Helen's. She delighted in surprising people. She never forgot the birthday of anyone she knew. She would reel them off, month by month, and mention that person with a special fondness ~ and she was always on the mark. For one such birthday, a guest was visiting from Chile. Ludi drove her to the store to buy a cake for him. Now, it took her fifteen minutes of wandering the aisles to remember his name for the bakery to put on the cake, but remember she finally did, and she went and got him that cake. But here is what he says about it in a recent email:
We are very worry about Helen. Please keep me inform. Your father and mother were soooo nice to me while I was there all by myself. Unforgettable. I had the honor to appreciate her, she was such a good person to me special those day`s while I was alone in an oversea country and with her attitude and warmest she made fell like at home.
Her tenderheartedness and compassion were evident in the tears she shed for others or her tears during a movie or her tears at the sight of a beautiful sunset or music, which she loved so much, even tears during Hallmark commercials. They were real and heartfelt.
Her life was contentment. She knew her role in life, and her joy came from living that life. She was completely devoted to making a loving home for her family. When her family expanded to include sons in law and grandchildren, her joy increased exponentially. Her family and friends meant the world to her. She loved being a homemaker, and considered it an honor. She did it so well, all by herself, until just a few months ago, when she no longer could. She often said she thought she was born to be a scullery maid, that's how much joy it gave her to keep a tidy household. Her daughters are hoping those genes are latent in them somewhere. She patiently supported her dear husband through difficult financial times, three household moves and the particular challenges of running a business out of their home. And always with so much love.
Her appreciation and her love for life extended to so many people. She never forgot to generously tip the mailman, or abundantly and repeatedly thank the store clerks, neighbors, the friends who cooked for us when she couldn't, the friend who sent a card to her every day of her illness, her family, and even the nurses in the hospital who were constantly causing her discomfort. Her gratitude was infectious. The emergency doctor who had to deliver the news that she had cancer was so taken with her, he trailed her out of the ER just to give her a hug and wish her the best. The nurses in the hospital came to check on her, even when they weren't on the shift, just because she listened and cared. People were drawn to her sparkle and her joy. She especially loved babies ~ everybody's!!! And children ~ everybody's!! She took genuine interest and delight in everyone's story, and remembered those stories, each and every one. She had an amazing memory. Sometimes a little too amazing for comfort. There was that time as newlyweds that Ludi dropped her and the baby off at a friend's house to visit, and he went on to a meeting at church. When he got home from the meeting at church, he prided him self on sneaking quietly into the house without waking up Helen or the baby. At midnight, when he finally decided to go to bed, he went into the bedroom and NO HELEN. He had forgotten to go and pick them up at the friend's house. She delighted in remembering that story, and laughed like crazy every time she told it. Her memory also confounded and amazed her dear hus band, with whom she played Scrabble every day of their life together in the retirement years. How did she remember all of those unusual words? From doing her NY Times crossword puzzles, of course!
Her generosity has been mentioned, but it cannot be overstated. She would literally give you the shirt off her back, anything she had that you admired; even her cherry pitter if she heard you didn't have one. She had no attachment to material goods, except that when she bought them from one of her famous catalogs, she couldn't wait to deliver the gift to the receiver. Is her family the only one that often celebrated birthdays weeks early or Christmas in November if the package came then? She could never wait to bless someone's life. It was her joy.
She was a teacher by nature. She taught her family so many things: To love the Lord above all else. To be trustworthy and honest. To welcome friends and strangers alike. Not to envy. Not to judge. How to iron. How to make deviled eggs. How to reflect God's love in big things and in the smallest things. She taught wisdom and patience. She taught her family how to laugh at themselves by her example.
Yes, that was another gift Helen brought to life her humor. She was a corker, and loved so much to LAUGH. She never minded laughing at herself ~ but she never laughed at the expense of others. She found humor in the silliest things in life, and her laughter was infectious. She was well known for her entertaining ability to mix up metaphors and then make a face, showing she knew it was off with an, "Oh, well. You know what I mean." In November of '05, as she and Ludi were using in home exercise videos, she proclaimed: "I've been doing so much walking I'm going to need a kneecap replacement (pointing to her knees) and a hubcap replacement (pointing to her hips.)" One day over coffee, she announced that Tom Cruise was going to marry that girl Nicole, from "Up Yonder." When asked if she meant "Down Under," she just giggled. Near the end, she was bedridden. She was such a private person, and was so uncomfortable with people having to wait on her, help her, and attend to her. In July, after being told she was about to be repositioned and cleaned up for the 100th painful time, she protested. When told it needed to be done, or she would have problems with her skin, she said, "No, don't. I don't care. I'd rather just sit on a bucket of knives." Her humor blessed all who knew her.
Perhaps by now, you are thinking, "Wow, Helen was a saint!" Well, this is how her family saw her. But she wasn't a saint, and she would be the first to pooh pooh such a notion. She was a sinner who knew she was, and so her final communion with her Lord and her family was so powerful and tender and sweet, that she knew her work was done. She took a sharp turn for the worse the next day, falling into a comatose state, and shortly thereafter went, as she put it, to the Promised Land.
Her life was filled with faith, love, joy, hope, peace, generosity and humor. What an amazing 84 years!
In closing, here is an email received from a dear friend who was in Germany when she passed away:
"We are all saddened by your mom's and, I hope, I may say "our Helen's" death. We take consolation in the knowledge that her last days and weeks were made lighter and better by your care and presence and that she will remain with us in our hearts, as she will in yours. We hope that you in her family and those who knew her will do the same.
Still, this is a heavy blow for all, especially for her closest family. Words like these can only do so much, but please accept them as a small token of our feelings and our sorrow. Please tell Ludi that we are thinking of him. My mother has asked me to tell you all that she is especially sad. She has been looking through the pictures of our evening together when she was visiting. My mother is not given to showing strong emotions outwardly, but it is evident that she feels the loss of an especially dear friend very acutely.
It is sad that we cannot be present at the services on Saturday, but we will certainly be there with our thoughts. We are confident that all of you will take strength for the future without her presence from remembering her together. Please include us in that circle of mourners of her loss and celebrants of her life."
Helen, we know you are in that Promised Land, bringing extra sunshine to heaven! We thank you for the abundance of light you brought to so many lives just by being yourself. Well done, good and faithful servant!
Ludi, Holly, Bill, Ann, Steve, Billy, Danielle and Ben