Helen Jean Lewis already was in her 90s when she moved to the Royal Nursing Center in Falmouth, three years ago, and it was a long life’s journey that brought her here — 94 years that she filled with travel and music, prayer and food.
The following is an excerpt of the Life Remembered featuring Helen Jean Lewis. To hear the full story, click the LISTEN button above.
Her friends and family say she was a woman who shared a lot, whether it was wisdom, stories or meals. For her roommate and friend Cinthia Karaffa, Lewis shared something bigger — her unwavering faith that God would take care of her.
“I got comfort from that," Karaffa said. "I'm not afraid. I was afraid of dying when I came in here. And I've always been afraid of dying, but I'm no longer because of Helen. When it happens, it happens."
For Helen Lewis, it happened on a Saturday morning after a life well-lived — and a jelly donut.
"Oh, my goodness," said her youngest granddaughter, Jay-me Brown, "the jelly donut, how interesting that that came to be."
"The night before (she died), she had dinner, and it wasn't pureed," Brown said. "It was supposed to have been pureed, because she had some issues swallowing.”
Dinner got sorted out, but the next morning Brown was sure to get back to her grandma’s room early to make certain breakfast was done right. It was oatmeal and scrabbled eggs with coffee, milk and orange juice. The eggs made her cough.
"It just so happened that one of her friends came by and she had a donut," Brown said. "She had a jelly donut. And my grandmother just grabbed the donut. And she was just like, Yoink! She grabbed the donut, and she just inhaled it."
In the days before that gooey, sugary morning, Lewis wasn’t well. But as she chomped away, she didn't cough once.
Sharon Rodarte was her hospice nurse.
“Helen had had a fairly bad week," Rodarte said. "She wasn't feeling well. And I came in that Saturday morning, Helen was sitting up in her bed, a smile on her face, her granddaughter was here visiting. She had jelly all over her nightgown. And I said, ‘Helen, you've got jelly all over you.’ And she said, ‘Yup, I had a jelly donut and it was wonderful! Jay-me's here.’ That's her granddaughter. And I said, ‘Well, I think the jelly donut and Jay-me are the best medicine.’ And she said, ‘Yeah, I feel wonderful.’ And about five minutes later, while I was still in here, she started having some difficulty breathing. And within five minutes she passed away.”
"And that's a just a terrific way to leave," Jay-me Brown said. "She was at peace, and I think that donut gave her that joy. 'I'm at peace with this. Well done. A life well served.'”
You can hear the full story by clicking on the LISTEN button above.