Helen Sollebello was a loving mother, grandmother, aunt, cousin, sister and friend to many people. She passed away either late last night or this morning; I just received the news from my cousin. Helen was my aunt, my great-aunt to be exact, born in the late 1920’s. Hard to believe she first set foot on this earth so long ago and now her existence has come full circle.
Aunt Helen was a very prominent adult in my life, when I was a kid I have tons of memories of often visiting her and her husband, my uncle Lou. I went through a rough adjustment patch when I was 14 and as a result at one point was hospitalized. Not really understanding but wanting to be supportive, Aunt Helen sent me a get well card from her and Uncle Lou. That card is really special to me because many other members of my family were hesitant or afraid to deal me, or would treat me disrespectfully and leave me to be victimized by the stigmized views of mental health. What I understood about Aunt Helen at that moment is that her love for me was unconditional; no matter what I did or how I was doing, perceived she was there for me.
A couple of years after my hospital incident, luck would have it that Aunt Helen and Uncle Lou lived in the same apartment complex as my father and I and I would frequently stop by, mostly to get something to eat as Aunt Helen always had something or didn’t hesitate to make something. I remember she used to make a really mean Lemon Chicken. I would pass her apartment before getting to my apartment after I departed the school bus and would just drop in to see if she had some tea water on or extra cookies I could take off of her hands.
My father has gone through his own “rough patches” as well and there were a few particularly difficult years in my later teen years. I had the support of Aunt Helen and Uncle Lou as I explained what was going on (and they were already aware) and they offered to talk to my father about straightening his path out (and he did for about 5 years!)
When I started college in Florida, like most young 20-somethings I had a crappy car. This car would overheat at the drop of a hat. By that time Aunt Helen and Uncle Lou lived near the college I attended, and it was great to be able to stop in and let my car cool down if it was overheating. She never had a problem with me stopping by, always welcomed me even though I didn’t call first.
Aunt Helen was a great lady and towards the end I think she was in a lot of pain, both from the loss of her dear husband, my Uncle Lou in March of 2009 and from her own health complications. She also had some degrees of progressing dementia occurring. I am going to miss her but am glad I got to see her in May of 2009. Even though it is sad that she has passed on, I feel ultimately she is at peace and free of pain. She is with Uncle Lou again probably doing the things they loved: watching wheel of fortune, hanging out and drinking coffee, talking and welcoming people (like me) who drop in unannounced and are looking for something to eat.
Aunt Helen and her cousin in 1931. Aunt Helen is on the right.