Helen Holmgren: Home is where the art is

Bay Area native Helen Holmgren has always had a thing for art. The many paintings, drawings, and collages that fill her Menlo Park home are just a part of what makes that home such a special place for her. It’s not only full of art – it’s full of memories.

Gail and Helen drawingIn 1951, Helen met a handsome young sailor on the tennis courts of Treasure Island, where John Holmgren was stationed. Married the next year, the couple moved to the Peninsula where they raised their four children in the home where Helen still lives.

While raising her family, Helen also volunteered for peace and justice issues, and was an avid runner, consistently winning races. And always, she painted, in both acrylic and oil, creating many of the pieces that now hang in her home. Helen passed her love of art to her daughter Gail Ragains, now a full-time artist.

Gail says that for both of her parents, staying in their home, even as their health declined, was important. “We talked about it. Sometimes I had to start the conversations so I had the information I needed to give them what they wanted,” she said. “I’m so glad we did.”

When John died at home in 2015, Helen was already suffering from dementia. Gail knew that hospice could help her mom as well as it had served her father.

Helen began hospice care about two years ago, and with our support, her condition improved enough that she no longer qualifies for the Medicare hospice benefit. Through our Transitions program, her Mission Hospice team can stay with Helen, providing practical and emotional support.

“When the hospice team came on, it really put my mind at ease,” says Gail. “And when Mom is ready to go back into hospice care, Mission Hospice will make it easy. It’s very comforting.”

Gail and her husband Joe both felt that they wanted to share all that they have learned over the course of caring for Gail’s parents. They have since become Direct Care Volunteers with Mission Hospice, and now – in addition to caring for Helen – visit other patients each week.

“I’ve learned so much from my experiences,” says Gail, “and I understand how difficult these times can be. Volunteering is a
very meaningful thing to do,” says Gail. “And it puts my situation into perspective.”

Perspective – whether in reference to art or to life lessons – is something that both Gail and Helen share. And watching mother and daughter sit together in Helen’s bright living room, it’s hard to miss that this home is both full of art and full of heart.

You can watch a short film of Helen and Gail drawing together here.