Lum: A sad farewell to Helen Klanderud
October 9, 2013
It is always such a shock when one of our own dies suddenly. In addition to our sense of personal loss, it brings home the tenuous nature of life itself, raising — especially for people of a certain age — questions such as, "Who will be next?" and "Will it be me?"
I am six months older than Helen Klanderud was when she collapsed with a stroke on Oct. 2 and died the next day without regaining consciousness, and I hope I won't offend anybody if I say that if it had to happen, way to go, Helen. Not with a whimper but a bang. No lingering miseries of debilitation or end of life in a nursing home, the slow death we all dread.
Helen was pragmatic and decisive. It is tough on the survivors to have no forewarning, but we should rejoice for Helen that she did not suffer.
When I first met Helen in the early '70s, she was the therapist and I was a client. One of my problems (today we'd say "issues") was the intense stress of work in the ad department of The Aspen Times. Helen listened — she listened intently — and suggested that instead of having a Wednesday noon deadline for Thursday's newspaper, we should change the ad deadline to Tuesday.
"Tuesday! Our advertisers would never stand for that," I protested in horror.
"They will get used to it," Helen assured me, and sure enough, we changed the deadline, the advertisers got used to it and the huge weight of the weekly crisis lifted as if pumped with helium. This was a lesson I took to heart to this day.
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Helen helped me with my worst problem — my ex-husband Burt had my daughter Skye in Alaska, refusing to let me see her for four years, a huge "issue" for me and my younger daughter, Hillery, and she helped me resolve a long-standing discord with my mother that I didn't even imagine was solvable.
Helen never taped a session, never took a note. When I asked her how she always managed to remember what I had said many sessions past, she simply said, "I listen."
She listened as I railed about my mother, and she asked me why I had been so angry as a child. Angry? "In your heart, you know what happened, "she said, "you just have to find it."
I dug to China, only to find a bomb of anger that, if detonated, could destroy the whole world in my 5-year-old mind. It was over nothing, I realized in my 30s when seeing Helen, and that bomb flew off with the Wednesday ad deadline.
I have immense gratitude to Helen for her help during trying times. She listened, she processed, and she advised with words of insightful wisdom.
I supported Helen in her three (two successful) bids for mayor. If the overbuilding of infill began to shock us when we saw the reality of it, I never lost respect for her personal integrity and dedication to Aspen. After her term limits, she stayed in the game, attending every social and political engagement, right in there until the end.
Helen Klanderud was one of a kind, a classy, grounded lady.
I'm going to miss her a lot.
Su Lum is a longtime local whose friends are rapidly disappearing. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times. Reach her at su@rofnet.
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