A Birthday Brings Some Grief and Several Signs From Above

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by Helen Baldwin |

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We columnists at Bionews know our submission and publishing schedule well in advance, and by that, I mean months in advance. The draft for my columns is due by 8 a.m. on Monday before its publication on Wednesday, twice each month.

Having gained a bit of wisdom over the years, I know that I’d better not go to bed on Sunday night until the column has been deemed ready for the editors. More than once it’s been submitted after 3 a.m. on the Monday due date. I cringe when my finger zaps it off, as my mind is particularly bonkers in a sleep-deprived state. Thank goodness some miracle-working editors are on board at Bionews.

You’d think that with such ample warning, I’d always be prepared to string together a few hundred words in coherent fashion. Alas, that’s rarely the case. In a few instances, I know ahead what I’d like to do and just have to figure out how to do it. At other times, happenstance determines my direction. In other cases, like this column, my mind resembles a fireworks display — random thoughts firing all over the place.

I can easily blame several factors for a hazy focus: typical May chaos, this May’s chaos, major projects stalled for one reason or another, and aging brain.

And the “mother” of them all: grief.

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Our introduction to SMA came on July 14, 1997, when our beautiful baby, Jeffrey, was diagnosed. He made the most of his brief earthly stay, ensuring that the gifts he left would keep on giving. Extraordinary friendships, the power of faith and prayer, and appreciation in general top the list.

Thanks to Jeffrey, I also became aware of signs and angel intervention.


My mother’s musical prowess was impressive, especially given the debilitating stage fright that led her to perform her senior recital under hypnosis. She was also a composer and exceptional music teacher. When I turned 12, Mom and I began decades of playing together on two pianos (and later, professional keyboards) for fun and in myriad performances. After my father’s death, my mother stepped it up a few more notches with some masterful original compositions.

Glaucoma hammered away at Mom’s vision until she could no longer see to operate her beloved keyboard. Any hopes of our playing together again quietly petered out. My optimistic self fought mightily in her presence to hide the sadness I felt. I managed to suppress the tears for her sake because it was most certainly a tough acknowledgement for her, too.

I’m not managing quite so well right now.

Thankfully, Mom didn’t need good eyesight in order to relay colorful stories of the past, something else we enjoyed in our daily visits. Her memory was enviable, as was her unique brand of humor, evident from an early age (well, OK, maybe it wasn’t so funny to Jimmy, a young neighborhood boy whom she planned to set on fire after he mutilated her bicycle tires) and lasting until her death in February. Mom’s idea to share some of the past in narrative form for my brother, Paul, and me was brilliant and greatly appreciated, inspiring us to work on our own stories to pass down.


My birthday falls in the middle of May. A few days before the 15th, it hit me that it would be the first one without Mom’s cheery greetings. Moping a bit, I reminded myself she wasn’t about to let the occasion pass without some special hoopla. I’d better be alert!

I wasn’t disappointed. On the 14th (a Saturday, like the day of my birth), I helped my husband, Randy, sell honey at his summer stand. Rain started falling, and then we heard some rare thunder. I love storms, but thunder in the North Carolina mountains where we live isn’t a frequent occurrence. It didn’t register as special, though, until I was driving home and spied a rainbow.

signs from above | SMA News Today | photo looking out at a highway, with a rainbow in the distance

I had been waiting for a sign, and I wasn’t disappointed. (Photo by Helen Baldwin)

When I reached our road and headed around a curve by what had been Mom’s house (now our son’s family’s house), the rainbow seemed to jump out from a barn right across the road.

signs from above | SMA News Today | photo of a rainbow just behind a barn

The rainbow seemed to be within my grasp as I reached the curve by the house where my mother had lived. (Photo by Helen Baldwin).

And when I got home, I saw that it was a double rainbow.

signs from above | SMA News Today | photo of a double rainbow above grass and trees

By golly, it was a double rainbow! (Photo by Helen Baldwin)

On the 15th, I lost count of the red cardinals that popped up whenever I looked out the windows.

Between a few tears and a lot of smiles, it was a good “first.”

That night, I noticed something that had hung on the back of Mom’s apartment door. I’d always loved it and brought it home, but in the bustle of the past few months, I hadn’t paid attention to it — until I got a “nudge” to look up to where it was hanging in its temporary spot.

signs from above | SMA News Today | photo of an angel doll holding a sign

The angel that had hung on the back of my mother’s apartment door, right where the ceiling caved in last month. (Photo by Helen Baldwin)


signs from above | SMA News Today | photo of a closeup of the angel's sign, reading in cursive, "When in doubt look up"

“When in doubt look up.” (Photo by Helen Baldwin)

Look up! But of course. From collapsed ceiling tiles, to rainbows, to angel reminders — where else would I need to look?

Very impressive, Mom! And thank you.

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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