Sunday, May 08, 2005


Like most such posts, this will mean very little to anyone who didn't know her, but: Helen Murphy died today.

Helen was the wife of one of my husband's oldest friends from High School. Paul, an actor and director with a goofy face and a goofier manner, stayed home with the kids when he wasn't rehearsing. Helen was the one who went out to work; she was also the one who knew how to fix the broken step out to the patio, knew where the clean socks were, and maintained a level of humorous calm for everyone in the family. When their older child, Keith, was very small they had a bad couple of years--Keith had a brain tumor, and the treatment was long and harrowing for him and for his parents, but he recovered. Keith is now in his late teens, a huge, strapping kid with a sense of humor as goofy as his father's and a pacific manner much like his mother's. SG used to see their daughter Julia once or twice a year, and it was always as if they'd only missed a day or two away from each other. The Murphy's annual 4th of July barbecue in their house in New Jersey was huge--their house faced the field where the town set off their fireworks, so after hours of eating and genial argument and chatter you could lounge about in lawn chairs or perch on the trampoline and watch the skies explode. It is a testament to both Paul and Helen that I liked pretty much everyone I ever met at their house (I can't even say as much for all my own parties).

A few years ago Helen was diagnosed with cancer; she was treated, the cancer remitted, and she changed a lot about her lifestyle, again in that calm, competent, hold-on-a-minute-and-I'll-fix-that-nuclear-reactor sort of way. She and Paul were both tall and heavy, but Helen lost weight, did some exercise, and took care of herself, without making any particular fuss about it. When we last saw her she was well, and busy with life. But since we moved west, of course, we haven't been to those 4th of July parties, and communication has been fragmented. Now we learn that the cancer had recurred, that it had been a very swift decline, and that Helen is gone.

She was a graceful woman, funny and smart. I can't imagine how her family will go on without her--she and Paul seemed to me to be partners in the best possible way--but I know they will. Just another damned light gone out of a world that could sorely use it.


Blogger sdn said...

oh gosh. oh no. she wasn't even 50, was she? please convey my sympathies ...

1:12 PM  
Blogger Madeleine Robins said...

I don't think so (about 50). I'll pass the word along. Danny spent some time on the phone with Paul and family this afternoon.

2:04 PM  
Blogger Gregory Feeley said...

Having become more of an expert on cancer-just-shy-of-50 than I like, I find myself wondering all the inappropriate things, like what kind? when? how treated? But of course this matters little to the woman's family and friends.

Please pass on my condolences to Danny.

4:21 AM  
Blogger Madeleine Robins said...

Thanks, Greg. It was breast cancer, at least the first time. I'm not sure where it moved in when it returned, but apparently the recurrence was fast moving and virulent. What you're wondering isn't in the least inappropriate--you are just a little more aware of the questions than someone who has had enough recent expertise to ask. I've been passing on on-line condolences to Danny, and he appreciates them.

Incidentally, I erred; we learned about Helen's death yesterday, but she died on Wednesday. She had said something like, "No, no, don't let Keith come home from college, he's right in the middle of the school year!" but was fortunately overruled, and the whole family was with her in their comfy, book-filled living room at the end.

8:28 AM  

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