The Eulogy for Helen Miller
Helen was born on Christmas day in 1938, the only, and greatly beloved child of a single mother. Helen never met her father; her grandfather was an artist. Her mother supporting them by working as a seamstress, and there were times when there was little eat. When Helen was six she experienced the trauma of the defeat of Germany in the last year of World War II. She frequently endured the sense of panic brought on by the sound of air raid sirens which sent Helen and her mother fleeing to the basement of their apartment building. Throughout the rest of her life sounds like that of the Parsippany five o’clock whistle would be distressing for Helen. On one such occasion Helen and her mother came forth from the basement to the apartment building in rubble, their home destroyed. They found shelter with a neighbor.
With great determination and perseverance Helen’s mother raised her daughter, overcoming the depravation caused by the war and the absence of a husband and provider to raise Helen up with some measure of stability, passing on these daughters with these same qualities.
A desire to leave behind the sorrows of post-war Germany, as well as a spirit of adventure, made Helen a frequent traveler and explorer of the world. The first expression of this came while Helen was still in high school and she took a bicycle trip into Italy with two friends staying at youth hostels.
Following graduation she took a job in England working as a nanny and in the kitchen of a boarding school. But it was hard for a German to feel accepted in England with memories of the war still fresh in the minds of the Brits, so after a couple of years she returned to Germany to work.
Throughout her post High School Helen’s life involved working long enough to save up enough money to fund her travelling adventures. One of her trips took her to Peru to explore the Inca ruins.
In 1964 at the age of 26 Helen came to the Philadelphia with the intention spending two years in the United States to work and explore the country. She took a job working as a secretary for the chairman of the University of Pennsylvania’s graduate school in Electrical Engineering. She lived with a German woman who had a nephew named Paul, who she briefly met during this time. Later Paul would become her husband, but not before Helen had had several more adventures.
When her mother came to visit she took a two month trip driving throughout the country, stopping in Florida, the Grand Canyon, Utah, Oregon and California, exploring Yosemite National Park and the Redwoods. A quick side trip to the Palo Alto Campus of Stanford University resulted in a job as a medical secretary at the Medical Center’s Anesthesiology Department during the time of the start of heart transplants. She became totally enchanted with the area, living there for five years, during which time she studied Spanish and enjoyed pottery making, scuba diving, backpacking, and more extensive travel when her mother returned for another three month visit.
During a Christmas visit east in 1970 Helen and Paul were reacquainted. They were amazed to discover that without knowing it they had worked together in the same building in Germany eight years earlier in 1962 when Paul was working overseas. It seemed like God kept bringing them back to each other, and so they found themselves falling in love with one another, getting married on June 26th, 1971 at the Zion Lutheran Church in Glen Gardner where Paul’s parents lived.
They lived in Randolph before moving to Parsippany. Paul worked as a transportation engineer. Mark was born in 1974.
Mark has many happy memories from his childhood.
There were extended visits by his grandmother. There were walks in the woods near their house, and trips to the library and to the arboretum. An above ground pool was built in the back yard for summer time fun. There were also frequent trips to the Sandy Hook for the day.
At Christmas Helen would light the Advent wreath, and each day open the Advent calendar, and pass out the chocolate piece inside. There was the making of snow men after winter snowfalls.
Mark took lessons on the key board, and Helen played the recorder, and Paul the clarinet, and sometimes they would play music together.
And traveling continued to be a big part of Helen’s life and that of her family. There were trips to Philadelphia and Washington, DC. There were several trips to California to see Paul’s family who were living there. Helen and Mark would travel to Germany to visit Helen’s mother there, and explore Mark’s German roots.
A house in the Poconos was purchased in 1980, where the family would go for quiet weekends, enjoying walks through the woods, and feeding the horses in the fields nearby.
Helen enjoyed collecting stamps, keeping touch with pen pals throughout the world for years and years. She enjoying gardening, playing tennis and being outdoors. She liked to read, especially books about history and travel. She worked for a time at the Morris County Library and in the office of a Pediatric Neurologist, and was active in the Mental Health Association of Morris County.
Paul was diagnosed with multiple mylanoma in 1984 but after successfully treatment he went into remission for several years.. Unfortunately the cancer eventually returned, finally taking him in 1995.
Helen’s heart was broken, but she wasn’t one to sit around absorbed with her grief. She stayed active in our church, attending the United Methodist Women meetings and prayers groups, singing in the choir, and helping out with our garage sales and bazaars. She was active with a German Choir that rehearsed in Dover, performing concerts at Germania Hall as well as at the Garden State Arts Center.
Helen continued to travel and to enjoy getting close to nature. She took a Caribbean cruise, and continued to keep in touch with her friends throughout the world.
Helen purchased a small home in Florida where she began spending her winters, remarkably driving herself the whole distance alone to and from Florida.
Having supported her husband in his battle with cancer, at the beginning of 2008 Helen found herself confronted with the same battle. She was diligent in her quest for wellness, careful about what she ate, exercising several times a week, and taking advantage of a variety of mind/body programs and support groups offered both here and in Florida. We all admired Helen’s courage with which she endured so much adversity.
Helen loved her son Mark deeply, and Mark loved his mother deeply as well, and it has been remarkable the way he stood by his mother in this last heart-wrenching year of her life, and advocated for her care. His mother’s strength and courage lives in him as well.
Helen endured a great deal of hardship in her life. The trauma of her childhood growing up in war-torn Germany left psychic wounds in Helen that she carried with her throughout her life. In the course of her life she watched family members she loved suffer, and she herself fought a long and heroic battle with cancer. Through it all, Helen was compassionate to others in their troubles. Through it all, she maintained a capacity to give thanks and to appreciate the beauty of this world. Through it all she never lost the capacity to laugh and enjoy the friendship of others.