Posted by schroeder915 on January 9, 2007
I didn’t know Paul Gailiunas and Helen Hill as more than New Orleans acquaintances. I can recall a conversation at some point from the dark recesses of my feeble memory, but I certainly knew them from a distance because their presence was so powerful. In a small-town place like New Orleans where so many lives cross paths, they were always visible because, not only did their gentle gregariousness guide their travels through a wide circle of acquaintences, but their compassion for others invited a reciprocating love.
Wednesday will be an extremely difficult day for Paul Gailiunas. Every day will be difficult from now on. Remember Paul. Remember Francis. Keep them in your hearts and prayers. Remember that Paul, in particular, is probably re-living in his memory the horror of the scene that unfolded before his eyes. The visual clarity and emotional impact of those memories may be as strong as when they happened. Everyone has a different recovery experience, but vividly-detailed memories of a tragic event is a normal biological reaction to trauma — what’s more commonly and somewhat disparagingly called post-traumatic stress disorder. It is very real, and it can be extremely dangerous when the repeated trauma can’t be subjugated.
Some grieving people withdraw from friends because they can’t stand to be around others who want to make casual chatter about their own lives as though nothing happened. Sometimes, friends don’t feel comfortable talking about the deceased, and instead, ignore the subject, or just disappear from the lives of grieving people. I would encourage Paul’s friends to spend time with him. He may want some normalcy, and that would be healthy. On the other hand, he may find it difficult to get back to “normal.” There is no “normal” anymore for Paul or Francis. Be gentle. Give Paul space, but encourage him to perform his usual routines. Getting back to “normal” is an important strategy of not just feeling better, but for some people, surviving. Especially encourage him to spend quality time with Francis. This shouldn’t be difficult — Francis is, after all, his mother, incarnate. Be kind. Speak softly — unless you sense that a cheerier approach is required. If you aren’t comfortable, just say that’s how you feel. If you’re sad, say your sad. If you don’t know what to say, say you don’t know what to say. Be patient. Just be there.
Those who are close friends really should consider performing a very special task — now — before too much time passes. Help to record your memories of Helen that will refresh for Paul the life he had with her. More importantly, those stories will provide for Francis a sense of who Helen was, not just as a human being, but as someone with whom he shares half of his genes, with all of the biological quirks and tendencies that produces. Share your stories so that Francis will know who he his. It’s really a vital task. If you loved Helen, do this for Francis. Remember that Paul has to explain to Francis somehow that his mother won’t ever again be able to kiss him goodnight, won’t be there for his birthdays, won’t be there to pick him up and nurse the scrapes and pains of life, won’t be there to share his achievements, his difficulties, his loves, his successes. Remember the incredible loss Francis will suffer of not knowing her love in a daily tactile way. You might even consider preparing unique gifts of Helen’s work, and special stories, dated for the special occasions in Francis’ life. Francis is going to need a lot of support over the years. So will Paul. Remember that long after the grieving has ended for you, Paul will still be grieving. In fact, his grief will never cease. The episodes may diminish in frequency after many years, but it will always be there on some level as a pain which never quite goes away. Right now, it must be raging inside his head, and in his heart.
Helen Hill showed many her joy before she was taken away from us. The violent act committed against such an innocent and generous life was senseless and particularly heinous. No attempt at rationalizing such an act could ever be fabricated. Humanity has suffered another great emotional fissure. We might, nevertheless, attempt to recall and celebrate the qualities in Helen which so miraculously transformed not just the way we responded to her profoundly gracious spirit, but we can celebrate in her loss all of the qualities which we now recognize as far greater than we imagined.
Helen Hill was a loving mother, a dear companion and wife, and much, much more. She was also a sorceress, a shaman, a healer. One only need acknowledge how we all feel now to know that her power has transcended the material plane of existence. She has touched each and every one of us in a profoundly spiritual way. We all grieve and suffer her loss — none more than Paul — but we can, and we should, we must celebrate who she was, and who she remains, in our lives. She is still here. She is still that miraculous creature, transformed into something we will no longer be able to see and touch, but she is now much more than that. She has performed her transforming magic on us. Even in tragedy, she still smiles on each of us, and asks that we make of her life something beautiful. She would want it that way.
I thought it should be a ballet about Salome using her alluring powers to actually create peace in the world. So Salome in this case becomes like a goddess who … reincarnates and is trained as a sorceress, as a shaman. And through her dancing, she is able to become both warrior and an influence on the world leaders’ actions (Terry Riley, on Salome Dances for Peace).