Sweet Auburn: The Magazine of the Friends of Mount Auburn A Modern Vision for an Historic Cemetery - Page 21

People and Happenings V olunteer P rofile : Helen Abrams By Jennifer J. Johnston, Media & Communications Director In another life, volunteer docent Helen Abrams dreams she might have been an arborist. “Trees continually inspire me and draw me to them in a deep and spiritual way.” In fact, nearly everything about Mount Auburn inspires Helen, who has walked the Cemetery grounds nearly every day since moving to Watertown in 1991: “The beauty of the landscape in every season. The inspiring stories and contributions of so many of those buried here - artists, inventors, explorers, reformers, abolitionists, feminists, and reformers. The commitment of staff and volunteers to making the Cemetery a place where people who grieve can come and be nurtured.” Helen, who recently lost her mother, Lillie Selwyn at the age of 98, has taken solace and inspiration from the Cemetery surroundings. She and Helen will be buried at Halcyon Gardens, surrounded by redbuds and dogwoods. Since becoming a volunteer in 2008, Helen has led over three dozen tours and programs about the Cemetery. Helen and fellow docent Susan Zawalich (pictured right) have jointly created over a dozen tours (the “A-Z tours”) since 2011. One of their most popular is about art and artists, featuring both art in the landscape as well as the people buried here who were visual and performing artists; others focus on inventors and explorers, symbols of passage, and women reformers. In addition to her tours with Susan, Helen has led numerous photography walks in all seasons. A photographer herself, Helen has exhibited twice at the Watertown and Arlington libraries and several times at Harvard University’s Holyoke Center. As a volunteer at the Visitor Center every Friday morn- ing, Helen is often asked whether Jewish people are buried at Mount Auburn, which indeed they are. After meeting with Rabbi Joshua Segal, who created a self-published walking tour of Jews buried at the Cemetery, Helen created her own expanded and updated walking tours on the same theme. “Every time I give a tour, someone will tell me about another Jewish person whose story is inspiring and worthy of inclusion in my walks. I love researching these people's lives and have been touched when I've had the chance to meet a family member who can add so much more to our knowledge of those buried here.” Helen is working with Cemetery staff to put this valuable informa- tion online. Helen is very passionate about sharing her love of the Cemetery with visitors who have hearing or mobility issues: “When I lead tours, I make sure to speak slowly, distinctly, and project forward to make sure that I am heard. People have thanked me for being sensitive to their limitations. I also love leading van tours for seniors and have experimented with tours for people “I love the trees at Auburn Lake for with limited walking their diversity and beauty in all seasons. mobility.” My Favorites include the Weeping Katsura that smells of cotton candy When Helen is in the fall, the Kentucky Coffee tree, not at the Cemetery, whose seeds I carry in my pockets for she enjoys traveling good luck, the Bald Cypress's ‘knees’ with her partner of that remind me of a magical gathering 30 years, Leo Carroll place for elves, and the Dawn Redwood (pictured top left with trees that spread their ancient branches Helen in Consecration over the water and reflect golden light Dell), expanding the as they change color in late October.” horizons of her two grandchildren, – Helen Abrams Sarah age 15 and Matt age 18, and birdwatching with staff and friends made over the years at Mount Auburn Cemetery. After retiring from a career in health care, she enrolled in the Brandeis Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (BOLLI). Her greatest pleasures have been reading the classics under the guidance of knowl- edgeable teachers​ and fellow students. This year, she is thrilled to have been asked to teach a course at BOLLI about Mount Auburn, which will include a tour for the students. 2018 Volume 1i | 19