For a parent the saddest task ever is to write a short memento announcing the death of a child. Our beloved youngest child, Helene Mariam Hensen is no more. The news shattered us, heartbreaking, gut wrenching -- and the reaction was similar for those who had known her since childhood – family in California, family in Holland, friends of Helene here in Las Vegas, friends who at one particular point had moved to other parts of the United States. Born in Vancouver, Canada, on March 8, 1986, Helene was the child of an Iraqi-Assyrian-born mom, Janet Baba Robin, of a Dutch-born father, Joost Maria Johannes Hensen, the baby sister of a brother, Hubert, four years ahead of her.
“Bintee”, “my girl” - in my wife’s native Assyrian and Arabic - was her mom’s typical call of care and caution around the house… “Helly” had long been her dad’s favorite term for his girl… Growing up in her early teens in California, later in Las Vegas, from childhood into her teens, she had heard her name called out a myriad of times, also because her growing intensity for living life which more than once worried mom and dad. And even into adulthood, a young woman, not yet married, sometimes living away from Las Vegas, mom and dad kept calling out her name every day and celebrated when she returned back home, safe, her presence in house unchanged, as common and natural as our breathing….
But, suddenly, no more… Helene wound up torn out of our lives, no time for parting words… Helene left this world totally unexpected, at age 34, late in the evening, on September 19, 2020… Instead, an accident… The circumstances of her parting were as cruel as they were senseless, sudden and, most tragically, final… It happened in Las Vegas, Nevada, a city which had been home to our family since 1999, a city known for its zest for life, and similarly a mark for who our daughter was, full of life, loving the Vegas life, outgoing, compassionate, a total people person, and known to those many people and friends for her sense of humor, her busy mouth and an always ready smile underlining the same… Importantly, as she had a natural, authentic way with people, Helene also had a natural way with four-footers -- dogs, cats – all kinds of creatures which had to be welcomed, sometimes with parental mixed feelings, in our homes… Yes, most of the time extrovert, suddenly, Helene could shift into a contrast as well – quiet, dark, introspective, turning spiritual, reaching for religion, for the Bible, for God, for “Matt Mariam”, Assyrian for the Virgin Mary, central in Middle Eastern Christianity as it was sometimes central in Helene’s life as well… But like many others her age, of a generation so different from her parents, Helene was a bundle of contrasts, subject sometimes to radical mood swings…. And probably part of the reason while she suddenly had to rush to meet her Maker.
In our culture we tend to hear the words of “loved ones”, and in the case of sudden departure, phrases like being in our prayers and closure… Our relatives, many of her friends have fully lived up to the first two phrases… Closure is a different reality… Can a mother ever truly get over the loss of a child? Our English language tries to tell us, we can… But to a Middle Eastern mom, that closure is unlikely to ever come complete… To her dad, in different ways, it will be much the same… Any parent will understand the pangs of periodic grief, those special days in the year… her future birthdays coming up… Unlikely a day in life will pass without our thoughts, our souls reaching out for her, our eyes stop lingering on her photos, this beautiful, beloved young woman who left life much too early.