By Suzanne Pender
KIND, wise, opinionated, funny and incredibly brave – an attribute that never faltered despite the challenges she faced in the final days of life.
Just some of the thoughtful words used to describe the late Helen Blanche (née Clarke), Castlegrace, Kilbride, who died following a short illness on 7 July. Helen, known affectionately by many as Nellie, led a very active and full life right up to June of this year, when she suddenly took ill. Despite the remarkable care of her family and her medical team, the challenge proved too great and Helen sadly lost her brave battle with cancer on Tuesday 7 July.
She was 71 years’ old.
Helen’s family are extremely proud of how their mother coped with her illness, showing tremendous bravery and strength despite the gravity of her illness.
That strength was due in no small way to Helen’s enduring faith, which is undoubtedly what got her through her final days. Helen accepted her illness with remarkable dignity and courage, often comforting those around her as they struggled to come to terms with the diagnosis.
Daughter of the late William and Elizabeth Clarke from Dunleckney, Bagenalstown, Helen was one of a family of ten children – four boys and six girls. She was predeceased by her brothers Don, Billy, Noel and sister Lily. Helen married Tom Blanche from Connaberry, Ballon in 1969 and the couple settled in Castlegrace, Kilbride, raising a family of four children – Paula, Kenneth, Lynne and Laura.
In 1996, Helen was widowed at the aged of just 46, when Tom passed away following a short illness.
When her family was reared, a determined and energetic Helen turned her attention to a new career path, graduating as a carer before taking up employment in that capacity with the HSE. Helen was hard-working, discreet and kind, possessing all the qualities necessary for her chosen occupation. She was very well respected in her role as a carer and supported many families in the county to look after their loved ones at home.
Helen’s Christian values were particularly evident through her work as a carer and her many acts of kindness which, although understated, touched so many people.
Following retirement, Helen continued her work as a carer with the healthcare company Home Instead and carried on with her rewarding work right up to March of this year, when the lockdown was imposed.
Helen’s funeral service took place at Gateway Church, Tullow with burial afterwards in the Cemetery of the Assumption, Bagenalstown.
In the eulogy written by her daughter Lynne and read by daughter Laura, her family described how Helen “strove for the simple pleasures life can offer and appreciated the small things”.
“Mammy was a kind, feisty, wise, opinionated, friendly, funny and an energetic person. She continued to work right up to the lockdown in March and even then continued her daily 5km country walks, despite what Leo said!” the congregation heard.
“She enjoyed swimming and water aerobics, too, and refused to slow down. She was proud of her work as a carer, a job in which she quietly excelled. She thought retirement was for old people so it was only when the Covid crisis began that it dawned on her that she, too, belonged to the group that should cocoon.”
Helen loved current affairs and could debate with the best of them – in fact, she seldom lost! She also loved a great variety of music, from Dr Hook classics to tunes from the band Elbow.
Nature always held great joy for Helen – she had the best-fed birds in the country in her garden and took great enjoyment from looking out at her bird table and watching the wonders of nature.
“Mam marvelled at and enjoyed the simple things in life. She was always a giving, practical person and no visit home was complete without a jumbo-sized box of washing powder, several towels and 500 teabags in the boot on the way home,” the eulogy continued.
“Mam loved her family and grandchildren, her many friends, her church and her work. She strove for the simple pleasures life can offer and appreciated the small things.”
The eulogy concluded with: “Thank you for being here with us today to send her on her way to God, in whom she had absolute faith.”
The Blanche family would like to thank the staff of Surgical Ward 1, St Luke’s Hospital and the palliative care team, who cared for their mother so well. They would also like to thank all those who offered help and support to their mother and the family during those difficult final weeks and in the weeks since Helen’s death, particularly their many wonderful neighbours.
The family would like to convey a special thanks to their neighbour and friend Margaret George, whose kindness and contribution to Helen’s care was immeasurable.
They are also very grateful to Somers and Sons Funeral Directors, Bagenalstown and Gateway Church, Tullow, in particular pastor Niall Byrne and all who organised and participated in the funeral service. The church and its members were of significant importance in Helen’s life.
Helen is survived by her four children Paula (Melbourne, Australia), Kenneth (Ballon), Lynne (Ballycumber, Co Offaly) and Laura (Drogheda, Co Louth), her grandchildren, her brother Liam and sisters Pat, Kay, Anne and Mary.
She will be hugely missed by her family, the local community, including neighbours, colleagues and many very close friends.
Helen will also be missed by her friends in the Gateway Church.