A golden anniversary, a celebration of my parents, and a perfect ending

Signs converge as we mark 50 years of marriage, and more

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by Helen Baldwin |

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Note: In an earlier version of this column that ran for a day, the timing of the author’s mother’s death was misstated. She died in 2022, not 2021.

A weekend this month packed a particularly powerful punch.

My husband, Randy, and I were married on June 7, 1974. So you won’t have to do the math, I’ll do it for you: That was 50 years ago. I remember (albeit vaguely) my grandparents’ 50th anniversary, when my brother, Paul, and I surprised our parents 21 years ago with a look back over their own half-century of wedded bliss.


As June 7 approached, I recollected my folks’ reminiscing and bewilderment at how quickly 50 years had sailed past. In addition to those bittersweet memories, Randy’s and my golden anniversary came on the heels of a notable birthday for me. (I was barely 20 when we married.) Talk about haywire emotions.

Where does the time go?

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Two children and a complete family … or so we thought

Without hesitation, I can say about the past five decades of marriage, “It’s been a wild ride.” Hands down, the most gratifying achievement has been our children. The summer after my first year teaching kindergarteners with orthopedic and multiple handicapping conditions at what was then the Brockman School, our son Matthew was born. Katie followed three years later. Our family was perfect and complete.

Fast forward a few years to our move to the North Carolina mountains. Less than a year later, God doled out a lulu of a bombshell: a pregnancy in our mid-40s! Randy and I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. (We still possessed a crib, but our new-to-us old farmhouse was tiny.) We ended up doing both, figuring God had a plan.

And boy, what a plan. Jeffrey was beautiful, like his siblings, and such an easy baby that I quickly forgot the concern of our age. Besides, we were surely wiser and better prepared for all that would come up.

No number of years, though, could have prepared us for the diagnosis of spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) two months after Jeffrey’s birth. Or for telling our sweet baby to “go on,” that we’d be fine. Or seeing that tiny white casket.

They say tears are cathartic. I trust that includes the quiet ones falling as I type.

My parents’ deaths and celebration plans

In 2006, my folks moved into their new house down the road from us. They hadn’t even fully unpacked when Dad was diagnosed with “masses” and life as we knew it screeched to a halt. As his health spiraled rapidly downward, Dad expressed his adamant desire for a party instead of a funeral. We were crushed at the thought of losing him in the earthly sense, so not having to endure a funeral was a relief for me. I still hadn’t fully regrouped from Jeffrey’s service nine years before.

It took a year after Dad’s death to get the house, yard, and us in some semblance of order, but the Papa party was a joyous tribute. Several of our favorite kinfolk came from all over to celebrate our beloved father.

In February 2022, after a remarkable life, my mother got COVID-19. Others feared the C-word; Mom, however, with only a hint of vision and dwindling hearing, looked at it as her ticket “outta here.” She was ready to hop the train, as she put it, and she also wanted no funeral. She wanted Paul, me, and our respective families to celebrate with Mexican food and pimiento cheese, both old family favorites.

It took a while to find a time we could all gather for the “Nana party,” but we did it. The date was the weekend of June 7.

A perfect ending

We learned a lot during our few months with Jeffrey, and it wasn’t just about SMA. Opportunities testing the power of faith, prayer, and our mettle were in ample supply. SMA led me to untold extraordinary individuals; some are even current Bionews co-workers!

A brown door with a large vertical window. Through the window to outdoors are a chair, a railing, and, on the floor, a red cardinal.

A red cardinal (at the bottom of the door’s window) appeared June 9 during a celebratory slideshow of Helen’s late parents. (Photo by Katie Fischer)

One of the biggest revelations, however? Signs. The twinkling star the night Jeffrey snagged his wings consoled me, but I undoubtedly missed other signs in the following fuzzy days.

One unmistakable moment, however, caught our family’s attention a few weeks later as we approached Jeffrey’s site on top of our little mountain in a snowstorm. Since then, plentiful, mind-boggling signs have appreciably eased the grieving not only for Jeffrey, but for other missed loved ones.

The family wasn’t slighted on the weekend of June 7, either. Laughs, Mexican food, pimiento cheese, and a few anniversary surprises were Saturday’s focus. Sunday’s focus on Mom and Dad included more laughs, delicious leftovers, and tears.

During Paul’s poignant slideshow of our folks’ life journey (set in part to Mom’s “Little Bird” song), Katie spied a red cardinal on the deck.

That would have been ample, but wait — there’s more! As our family returned home after the weekend hoopla, darkening skies announced an approaching steady, soothing rain — an occurrence that also followed the Papa party 17 years ago.

As the rain ended back at the rental celebration house, Paul and his son, Jonathan, alertly sought out a nearby clearing, witnessing a double rainbow — a stunningly perfect ending to a perfect celebration.

A double rainbow appears in a gray-blue sky above green grass and a single tree. Another tree is left in the frame, along with a brown path.

A double rainbow appears June 9 after a twofold family celebration observing Helen and Randy’s 50th anniversary and her late parents’ lives. (Photo by Paul Derden)

Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today or its parent company, Bionews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.


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