Monday, July 26, 2010

My Dad- Bill Helwig (1927-2010)

We knew the day was coming. . . 

Todd and I were returning home from an out-of-town trip when my mom called on March 2, 2010 to say that she was taking my dad to the emergency room for a possible blood clot in his leg. Dad's health had been rapidly deteriorating since last fall, after he fell and broke his hip and had a hospital stay of 38 days. However, he had rallied enough to go home by Christmas Eve, and was making a little progress in his walking and overall recovery day by day.

Dad, 81, was admitted to the hospital that day, and seemed to be doing fine until I got a phone call the next morning from my mom saying that Dad's health was failing fast and that I needed to come to the hospital immediately.  When I arrived, he has been revived by a "code" team and was very unstable, yet he was alert enough to say "Hey Bonnie, How was your trip?". Mom had to make some big decisions that day about his future health care, and because she and Dad had already discussed not doing any life extending measures, the medical staff let him slip into a coma and die peacefully that evening.

You get pretty reflective about life when you watch someone die, and lots of memories also come flooding back about your relationship with that person. Here are a few of my favorite childhood memories with Dad:

-Playing "Edelweiss" on the piano over and over for Dad.  I took years of piano lessons, and my dad enjoyed hearing me play probably more than anyone in our family.  He was extremely proud of his German heritage and this song was his favorite. . It's from the movie "Sound of Music".

-Going to the big livestock shows in Texas. . Dad was very competitive.  During our 4-H years, we showed Hereford heifers and steers, and he took great pride in us (my brother and I) showing prize winning animals.  He loved going to the livestock shows- -Abilene, Ft. Worth, San Antonio, Houston and San Angelo to compete and also visit with rural families from all over the state.  These families were some of our closest family friends while growing up. Doing 4-H and going to livestock shows are probably my best memories involving our family being together.

- Going to the Mereta Co-op Gin office. Dad worked at this same cotton gin and grain elevator for about 40 years.  During cotton harvest, I would often go to the gin office to see my dad, as he would often have very late nights and I would not see for several days in a row. The gin office was often full of coffee-drinking farmers who gathered once and sometimes twice a day for a break and to catch up on the community news.  These guys were solid rock kind of men- usually weathered, tough looking guys who often had good sense of humors and were great story tellers.  These were some of my dad's closest friends.

-Studying maps at the dining room table. Dad loved to travel, both outside and inside the state of Texas. Sometimes at night, he would drag out a Texas or United States map and name a city for me to look up, and then have me plot the best route to get there.  It was a great exercise in geography and it caused us to dream about places where we wanted to visit someday.

- Long wild car rides to Montana for vacations.  During my years at home, I think we made 3 trips to Whitefish, Montana to visit my mom's aunts, uncles, and cousins who lived there.  Dad would sometimes drive 800+ miles in a day to get there and he NEVER drove slow.  I remember driving up to Aunt Annie's house in July and she was standing at the door, waving at us to hurry and come watch the TV. . .she said "They are landing on the moon right now. " Going to Montana gave me my first taste of what it's like to experience a cool summer.  I didn't know cool weather in the summer time existed till we visited there. And I fell in love with the Rocky Mountains on those trips.

-Working on the farm together.  When my brother left for college, I became Dad's farm hand, and in the summer, almost every evening when I was home, we would go and move 40 ft. irrigation joints by hand down on the river bottom where cotton and milo were growing. It was often at least 95 degrees in the evenings while we were doing this.  . .no wonder he had a heart attack when he was 52.  I was teased at school often in the fall about having the strongest biceps in the school, but working on the farm really shaped my work ethic for the rest of my life. Doing farm work taught me that there is great value in manual labor, and you will always survive if you are willing to work. . .work hard. . .and do a job right.

As with most children, there are many things I wish I could have changed about our relationship through the years. It was not perfect, and all of us have faults. . . .but he did all that he knew how to do to raise my brother and I to be high achievers and good citizens in our communities.  I am thankful that Dad's mind was sharp until the day he died, and that he was always reading and studying.

The Bible says in James 4:14 "What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes."  Watching my dad pass from this life into another really made me think about the purpose and value of each day of our lives. I have learned that one's health is really a gift, that we have one shot to use our time for something of worth and purpose , and that life is not about us, it's about Jesus. . .if we really are sincere about calling ourselves Christians. Treasure this day . . .there is no promise of another one.


  1. Bonnie - Just catching up on my reading :0). I really enjoyed reading this blog about your dad - so glad that I got to meet him and see your childhood home. Family is precious, warts and all, and I am thrilled that, through Jordan and Georgia, you are part of my family now!