Francis Pop and I have been living with my mother in British Columbia since late January. Francis is doing well. He is two and a half years old now. He is very bright, strong, sweet-natured, and good-humored like his Mama was. We spend lots of time at the nearby parks and beaches. It is beautiful here and the air feels fresh and healing. My physical wounds are improving with therapy. I am slowly but surely making progress on completing Helen's last film. Working on the film has been very helpful to me.
Francis and I are in close touch with Helen's family and we'll visit them again in June. Our cats Mabel and Fernelli are with us here in B.C., and Rosie our potbellied pig is being well cared for at Wee Pigs Farm in Leesville, South Carolina.
Helen's 37th birthday was very sad for Helen's family and for us. Brett, Jake, and Wyatt released 37 helium balloons at Riverside Park in New York, each with a note about Helen, encouraging whoever finds the balloon to be kind and helpful in their lives. Becky and some friends gave out 37 balloons and bubblegum to unsuspecting students at Helen's high school in Columbia, S.C. Francis and I made two vegan cakes and sang Happy Birthday to Helen. We miss her so much and we are trying to honor her as best we can.
Here are a few recent photographs of our little Francis Pop (or Poppy, or Franny)
Thank you to everyone for your love and support,
Broccoli and Helen Hill
I am Helen Hill's Uncle Bob. Helen was murdered earlier this month, and her husband, Paul Gailiunas wounded, in a senseless crime in New Orleans. In addition to Paul, she is survived by her two year old son, Francis, her brother Jake, and her Mother Becky and Step-father Kevin and, as her obituary said, "a large circle of aunts, uncles, cousins, and a grandmother by marriage".
Helen's death was a tragedy not only to her family, but to thousands of people who knew her or knew of her, many of whom traveled from California, New Orleans, Vermont, New York, several provinces of Canada and South Korea to attend her funeral in Columbia, South Carolina. Articles appeared in the New Orleans and Columbia newspapers. The Associated Press picked up on the crime resulting in an article and a picture of Helen in our local Charleston Gazette and it received coverage on CNN, and the three major networks. There was even an op-ed piece in the New York Times.
All of the accounts mentioned how remarkable Helen was as a film maker, peace activist, and supporter of a rebirth of New Orleans. However, what the media could not convey, and it really never can in cases of senseless loss of loved ones, is the hurt and sadness felt by her family and loved ones. This is, I am sure, no different for Helen's family than it is for the families of soldiers who are killed in the prime of their life battle, or the families of the victims of terrorist bombs, or the families of other victims of crime. Nevertheless, ever since I found out about this tragic event, I have been unable to get Helen off of my mind and felt that I needed to share with others just how special she was to me; in large part because I never shared this with her, but also because I want the other equally wonderful members of my family to know how special each of them is before I am deprived of the privilege of telling them so as I was in Helen's case.
My familial connection to Helen is by marriage; not by blood. Her stepfather is my wife's brother. When Helen was about 8 years old, he married Helen's mother. Because of distance and work obligations, the only time our two families were able to spend time together was in the Summer in Vermont where we would all try to meet in August of each year at my mother-in-law's home, at weddings and funerals, or on our way through Columbia on the way to visit relatives in Florida. The visits were usually short, but memorable for the degree to which Helen and all of her new cousins as well as her Aunts and Uncles, grew to love one another as only close families can. We all reveled in her success in high school and college and in her graduate work in the film arts. Perhaps most of all, we were amazed by the gift she brought to her large family through her marriage to her soul mate Paul. Many of us (myself included) were fearful that their wholesomeness and trust in one another and in the goodness of people was na´ve and simple. In fact, it turned out that they were both gifted with the insight that most of us lose as we grow older. Helen never lost that wonderful awe of being alive and the zest for life that comes naturally to children but is so often beaten down by life and its tribulations as we get older. One example of her love of the simplest things later turned into a humorous memory that a number of her cousins and I would share on later occasions. It happened at a wedding reception for a cousin in North Carolina where Helen, a vegetarian like her husband Paul, exclaimed in her silken Southern accent as she went through the food line: "Broccoli! Oh, Paul, I looove Broccoli. Paul, don't you just looove Broccoli?"
Shortly after we learned of Helen's murder, my daughter suggested that we will never be able to joke about that simple little exclamation about broccoli because it might be seen to trivialize her life. But, I think not. If there is one lesson that this horrible event has taught me, it is that every minute of life is so precious and that we must share our appreciation of this fact in the present and not when it is too late. Helen will never know that that little, natural expression of joy over something as mundane as a simple vegetable would live on in my mind for as long as I live.
That senseless tragedy in New Orleans has robbed us of Helen, but it will never rob me of my memory of her every time I eat a helping of broccoli. We all have similar, silly anecdotes about members of our families. Take the time today to tell your loved ones how special they are to you. You may not have tomorrow to do so. I am going to do so by sharing this with my family.
My name is Theodora (Teddy)Hill. I am Helen's aunt and live in New Orleans. I am late catching on to this page but would like to add to the family letters.
I got to see Helen a lot because I kept Francis Pop once a week so she could work on her films. She added such a bright light to my life as she did to so many others. I have recently returned from Columbia where I spent time with Helen's family. Her brother was there, along with Becky, Helen's mother, Kevin, her step-father, as well as Paul, his mother, and Francis Pop. Elijah was there too. (I think everyone had a bed.) Tanya was there in the daytime helping with the computer. Everyone was doing amazingly well and they showed me some of Helen's films that I hadn't seen before. I reminded them of a Helen baby story and all agreed I should put it in this letter. Besides, I think it's good to remind people of Helen's mischievous side.
When Helen was about six or seven years old, her brother Jake was winning everything he entered. He had lots of trophies and ribbons he was naturally quite proud of. (Helen hadn't started winning hers yet.) When he came home with some sort of honorable baseball cap, it was just too much. Helen disappeared into his bedroom with a pair of scissors and the cap was never seen again, except in very small pieces.
Kevin knew exactly how to take care of this situation. The next day, after a short speech about her value as a daughter, he presented her with a huge trophy, larger than any of Jake's. Helen kept her mischievous side all her life and it often showed up in practical jokes on her friends. She was a kind and wonderful person but by no means a goody-goody. All our lives are diminished by her absence.
Somehow, I am managing to get by. Since the day Helen died, I have been surrounded by friends and family and this has been so helpful to me. I am trying keep busy. I am very grateful for your letters and e-mails and love and support.
Our little son Francis Pop is 2 years and 3 months old today. He is simply the most precious and most important thing to me now. He is so small, but he is a very strong, good boy. Francis is coping extremely well. He is able to play and to enjoy the people here who so clearly love him. We are trying to fill what we know is a hole in his little heart, having lost his most important person, his protector and number one playmate, his beloved Mama. I honestly am convinced that he is doing so well because Helen was such a fantastic mother, and provided him with a very deep trust in others and security in himself.
I will have a hand surgery next week and physically I know I will be fine. Sometime after that I'll bring little Franny to be with my family in North Vancouver for who knows how long.
Becky and Kevin, Helen's parents, wanted to thank you all for your generosity and your kind thoughts.
To Helen's vast circle of friends, family, loved ones, acquaintances, grieving bloggers, and then some:
I am Helen's older brother. My family and I, and Paul, and his family, have found great solace in the past ten days in the massive outpouring of thoughts, memories, anecdotes, photos and stories on helenhill.org.
Thank you, Cristin, for starting and maintaining this living tribute to my sister.
My family and I can't imagine how we should begin to repair the hole in our collective heart. Paul is trying. My mother is trying. My stepfather Kevin, who married my Mom when Helen was six, is trying. Paul's family is trying. Helen's father in Portland, Maine is trying. My wife Brett, and my son Wyatt, are trying. I am trying. And I imagine that little Francis Pop, in his own way, is trying.
I don't want to sink into rage and despair, but damn it is hard. But I think that what Helen would want, more than anything else, is for us to try to heal ourselves, as best we can, in whatever way we can. To cherish the lives on this earth that we still have, and to make those lives even more fulfilling, loving, compassionate, ebullient, gregarious, selfless, quirky, forgiving, patient -- all in all, to make them more "Helenesque". Honestly that is the only thought that seems to mean anything to me right now.
I'm back in New York now, where I live, but will be back in Columbia this weekend, when I hope to add additional photos, mementos, etc. on Helen for the site. Maybe even some really amazing entries from the journal she wrote when she was 12. Helen had multiple dimensions. I would like to contribute some items reflecting the little girl from Columbia, South Carolina, who loved boiled peanuts, gag gifts from the Cromer's novelty store downtown, and giggling with her friends late into the night during sleepovers.
I also plan to compile a "time capsule" for Francis Pop when he turns 18, including a narrative of the awesome and poignant outpouring that has transpired since Helen's death.
Below please find some email addresses to contact us if you would like. In part to this site, Helen still lives, and always will. Thank you again.
924 West End Ave. #T2
New York, NY 10025
jakehillventures [at] gmail.com
The Hill-Lewis Family: hhilllewis [at] yahoo.com (remember to type three Ls)
The Gailiunas Family: paulgailiunasfamily [at] yahoo.com
Helen's father (in Portland, ME): jakehill66 [at] yahoo.com
Paul and Helen's family have been comforted by the unbelievable amounts of love and admiration for Helen from all corners of the globe. Thank you all.
The family is managing thanks to all the memories of Helen that people are sharing with them and for the sake of that playful, sweet-natured little boy Francis Pop.
Helen sent a postcard a day. She loved that old-fashioned form of correspondence. I hope you can all send postcards to Paul and Helen's family as they continue to struggle through this. And you can send postcards to Francis Pop forever. This is still the best address...
Kevin and Becky Lewis
1432 Medway Road
Columbia, SC 29205
Paul will be moving to Vancouver at the end of this month. We'll post an address for him on the Helenhill.org website.