Over a half million people have lost their lives due to COVID here in the United States. Many of us have suffered a personal loss, or know someone who has. But for Shelli Helms of New Iberia, her way of processing grief doesn't just help her maneuver through the healing process, it brings hope to so many others.
You may have seen Helms running around town. She's a mother of four, including a special needs child. This doesn't leave much "Mommy time". She had been a runner, even training for longer races, but like many others, life takes over. She was trying to get back into her running routine last spring, but COVID and lock downs kicked in. She managed to get in a few miles, whether it was on a treadmill, or just on her own property.
Helms says, "I was kind of getting back to calling myself a runner and then my dad got sick." Her dad Wayne, had COVID. She adds, "He was diagnosed at the beginning of November, and he was in the hospital all the way through February." He had been on a ventilator, and eventually made some progress. Unfortunately, the damage had been done.
"When we got to LTAC, (Long Term Acute Care) we were working to remove him from the ventilator. He was starting therapy and things like that but, over time, what we learned was that his lungs just weren't improving enough to get any better." Helms also says, "He was able to come home for about two days. He was able to see family, and all of the grand kids who hadn't seen him in three months. He was able to talk to all of his friends and say his goodbyes."
Helms and her dad had that special father/daughter relationship. And he loved his grandkids too. She says, "My dad was truly one of my best friends, I think he really got me. He was a confidant and a best friend. On Sunday he would call and say, 'what's going on this week?' He'd plan out his week based on that. He loved sports, but he liked everything they did. It could be elocution or plays, anything."
We all handle grief differently. But like her dad, Helms was more concerned about everyone else. "It was tough watching my kids go thru it, because this was their first big loss."
Now she uses running and her faith. She started a Facebook page called Praying Through the Miles. On her runs, she'll pray for those lives lost. And she was shocked at how many names came in. Now she's working toward 500 miles for over 500,000 lives lost. And you can submit names too.
She adds, "What I'll try to do is, after I run for that person, I'll send them a picture of the name on my hand to let them know that was the day I ran for them. And it's surprising how much that little tiny thing really helps people. Or just lets them know that someone is out there thinking about their loved one. I just try to think about them, pray for their families, and that the healing process moves on."
What happens when there's a familiar name, or maybe the memories of her dad pop up? "I do get overwhelmed sometimes. And may have to pull off for a minute. Have a good cry, then keep going. Because it hits me. That's the time that I allow myself to let down my walls." She also says, "These types of things test your faith. Some people have gotten closer in their faith and maybe stronger, while other people are struggling. So reach out to whoever you need to."
She knows she feels her dad's presence with her on those runs. "I think my dad would be proud of what I'm doing. He's with us. He's with us at the track meets. He's always with us. This allows us to talk about him all the time. And that helps with the healing process, for us."