Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Hurting hearts in need of prayer September 21, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:30 AM
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WHAT DO YOU SAY? What do you say? What do you say to your sister-in-law who has just learned that her father has died in a single-vehicle accident in southwestern Minnesota?

What do you say when your heart hurts, when all you can do is cry and you need to console someone who is hurting more than you?

What do you say?

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry… I love you.”

As your voice breaks and the tears fall and there is silence on the other end of the phone line, you pull yourself together. Not because you can, but because you must. You want your sister-in-law to hear you speak, to feel your love embracing her, in your words, on the worst day of her life.

This was my Tuesday.

First came the phone call early Tuesday morning from my other sister-in-law with the news which sent me reeling, my heart racing, the tears flowing in a river of grief.

“… dad was killed in a car accident last night…”

Sketchy details that don’t matter because they won’t bring him back—the husband, the father, the grandfather, the brother, the uncle, the man loved by so many.

It is my duty to inform three of my younger siblings, my mom… What do I say? How can I tell them?

So I phone my husband first, barely able to still my trembling fingers to punch the numbers into my cell phone. I can hardly get the words out, to tell him the awful, awful news. He offers to call my family. But I tell him, “No, I can do this.”

And I do. First my brother, who is on vacation and whom I am unable to reach. In my voice message I instruct him to call me, that it is important.

Then I speak to my sister, who will contact my other sister.

I call my eldest daughter, leave a message with the other daughter. My son will get the news when he arrives home from school.

And then I must tell my mom. But I don’t want her to be alone, so I call my aunt—her neighbor—to deliver the news in person. I phone my mom 10 minutes later, after my aunt has arrived, and my grief breaks through again in words overwhelmed with emotion.

Later my aunt phones to tell me we reached my mom just in time, before a friend called with the news of Steve’s death. In a small town, word travels quickly.

And so my Tuesday ebbed and flowed with grief in more than a dozen phone calls made and fielded. The message left with my youngest brother, mourning the tragic death of his father-in-law. The husband and father trying to be strong for his wife and their children.

I cry for my young nephew and my teenage niece and their mom and her mom and my youngest brother. All of them. A family hurting.

And then when I can calm myself, if but for a moment, I bow my head in prayer, asking for God’s comfort and peace to bless this grieving family.

It is all my sister-in-law has asked of me—to pray.

And now I am asking you. Please pray.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Oh, blessed summer eve on a Minnesota farm June 30, 2011

If you look closely, you will see the farm dog in front of the 1915 farmhouse to which a machine shed was added.

WIDE SWATHS OF SHADOWS sliced across the farmyard as the sun edged toward the horizon on a whisper of a summer night.

The old farm dog, tethered to a chain next to the 1915 farmhouse-turned-granary-turned storage shed, rose from his resting place on a paw-worn patch of grass. Water and food bowls rested on the single cement step nearby, within his reach.

The dog didn’t bark, didn’t lunge, just let me be as I moved into his territory. He stood, paced and then eased onto his haunches, acknowledging my non-threatening presence as I dropped to one knee to view the world from his perspective.

I wanted only to photograph this guardian of the farm on a summer evening as absolutely picture-perfect as any day you’ll get in Minnesota. Still. Serene. Colors sharp like new crayons. Sunlight, eye-blinding bright to the west, on the other side of the barn, outside the dogs’ reach.

This June evening, for these few hours, this watchdog could not roam the farmyard. He could only eye the visitors seated across the gravel drive at a picnic table. Friends gathered for pizza and lemonade sweetened with fresh strawberries and then more berries atop angel food cake and ice cream topped off with whipped cream.

Laughter punctuated conversation. Then bibles flipped open to words written upon pages thin as butterfly wings. The shrill call of a cardinal pierced the silence between ideas shared and scripture read.

Then, as the farm dog watched, the friends bowed their heads in a prayer of thanksgiving—gratitude to God for protecting the owners of this farm from serious injury in a motor vehicle accident the previous day. A rear-end collision. Truck spinning, tipping onto its side along a Minnesota highway. Glass in teeth and waistbands and hair.

None of this the guard dog knew on this most blessed of summer evenings on a Minnesota farm.

TODAY, JUNE 30, has been designated as “Maroon Day” in Minnesota, historically the deadliest day on our state’s roadways. Since 2000, more fatal crashes have occurred on this final day of June, leading into the July Fourth holiday, than on any other day of the year. Statistics show 30 fatal crashes resulting in 35 deaths.

All of Minnesota’s nearly 600 state troopers, in their signature maroon vehicles, will be patrolling today.

Buckle up. Drive carefully and be safe.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling