Helen Sheehan


4:00 pm - 7:00 pm
Wednesday, October 5, 2022
Edward V. Sullivan Funeral Home
43 Winn Street
Burlington, Massachusetts, United States

Funeral Mass

10:00 am - 11:00 am
Thursday, October 6, 2022
St. Barbara's Church
138 Cambridge Road
Woburn, Massachusetts, United States


11:30 am
Thursday, October 6, 2022
Pine Haven Cemetery
Bedford Street
Burlington, Massachusetts, United States

Obituary of Helen Louise Sheehan

Helen Louise (Garbarino) Sheehan passed away at her home in Burlington on Sunday evening, October 2, 2022.  The beloved wife of the late “Jack” Sheehan, she was 96 years old.

Helen was born in Boston.  She was the daughter of the late Emilio and Esther Garbarino.   Helen was raised and educated in Malden.  After high school she went to work in Boston.  She loved working in the city and having fun outings with her friends. On weekends, she traveled to Marshfield and spent weekends at the beach with her cousins.  Helen liked to look her best, always coordinating her outfits, even for Red Sox games.

Helen married her husband Jack on October 20, 1956, and they settled in Burlington in 1959 on Pathwoods Ave, which was a wonderful neighborhood to raise their five daughters. Everyone in the neighborhood was like family.  She, and close friend Alyce, had a standing date for coffee at 10am.  Once the kids started school, they joined a bowling league at the Brunswick Bowl-A-Way in Burlington, which she enjoyed well into her 70's.

Helen cherished her role as a wife and mother.  She created a wonderful childhood filled with lasting memories for her daughters that included cookouts, July 4th parades, trips to the beach and spending time by the family pool.  She was a resourceful mother making many of her daughters' dresses and could often be found ironing in the kitchen while making snickerdoodles for the girls' afternoon snack.

When the Burlington Mall opened, Helen took a part-time job at Sears. She enjoyed her job and made lifelong friends, many of whom she continued to see for monthly lunches.

When Helen and Jack retired and their girls were grown, they enjoyed traveling throughout the U.S and Europe.  Helen recently remarked that these trips were some of her most treasured memories and she encouraged her daughters and grandchildren to do the same.

Helen was a devout Catholic and was a longtime involved parishioner at St. Malachy’s in Burlington.  In recent years, St. Barbara’s in Woburn became her home and she loved attending Mass there with her daughters. 

Helen was blessed to be a wonderful “Grammy” to her 11 grandchildren and 8 great grandchildren. She was very present in their lives.  Helen made special and unique memories with each one of her grandchildren and great grandchildren. She left no doubt in each of their minds of what their Grammy meant to them. 

Helen lived a life that spanned 96 years. She lived through the depression and World War II.  She saw the rural town of Burlington become a flourishing community and five beautiful daughters create amazing families of their own. 

Helen was the beloved wife of the late John J. "Jack" Sheehan.  She was the loving mother of Kathleen Karella & her husband Don of Fairbanks, AK, Susan Gramzow & her husband Tom, Judy McElhaney & her husband Tim all of Billerica, Linda Chellali of Burlington and Patty LaFleur & her husband Dave of Townsend. Sister of the late Florence Radochia.  Helen is also survived by 11 grandchildren & 8 great grandchildren.  

Visiting hours will be held at the Edward V Sullivan Funeral Home, 43 Winn St., Burlington on Wed. Oct. 5 from 4-7pm.   Funeral from the Funeral Home on Thursday, October 6 at 9am, followed by a Mass of Christian Burial in St. Barbara Church, 138 Cambridge Rd., Woburn at 10am.  Interment Pine Haven Cemetery, Burlington.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Salvation Army  www.salvationarmyusa.org, or St. Jude www.stjude.org, or the charity of your choice.


Family Remembrance by Judy McElhaney

Remarkable: worthy of being noticed, uncommon or extraordinary …  Remarkable ... 

Helen led an ordinary, yet remarkable life.  One steeped in faith and family.

Born prematurely in 1926, and weighing in at less than 3 lbs, Helen exceeded expectations from the start. Afraid she might not survive, her mother wanted her daughter baptized immediately, right there in the delivery room.  With little time to think, and in need of a name, she asked the nurse her name … Helen … and that is how Helen was introduced to the world.  

Her parents took her home and kept her behind the stove ... the warmest place in the house … They fed her with an eye dropper and slowly, but surely, she began to grow and thrive. 

Esta and Mil Garbarino settled in Malden with their daughters, Florence and Helen.  Like many families, the depression hit hard and they lost their house. At Christmas, the Salvation Army provided  fixings for the holiday meal and dolls for the girls… that doll became a treasured gift, and taught her from an early age the importance of sharing what you have with others.  

Despite her mother’s admonitions and with her father’s gentle encouragement, Helen  was a classic tomboy, spending time playing outside with the neighborhood boys playing tag and riding bikes.  

During WWII, Helen was at Malden High. Like all Americans, she did what she could to pitch in.  Her father had quite a green thumb, and their Victory Garden was a source of pride ... Not because it was the best or biggest, but because it would help others.  She recalled, “If everyone does a little, a lot can get done”. 

Helen’s life trajectory took a dramatic turn in the early 50’s when her brother-in-law Walter set her up with his friend Jack.  The couple quickly found they were well suited and married in October 1956.  

Three years later, and expecting their third child, Jack and Helen took a risk and moved to the country. Yes, Burlington was the country. This meant moving away from everything familiar, yet Helen loved their little cape on the dirt path in the woods. The day they closed on their house, an unexpected interest rate increase raised their mortgage by a budget busting $10.  They wondered, “Did they bite off more than they could chew?”  Characteristically, she and Jack decided they would just figure it out. No fuss, no muss … Helen learned to drive, make dresses for her daughters, turn one can of tuna into five sandwiches for school lunches and thousands of other little things.   

We lived simply, but never felt like anything was lacking, because nothing important ever was.  Mommy and Daddy filled us with love, laughter and the importance of sticking together.  

Helen guided, but didn’t  push too hard. Once, she related with envy the way her friends’ grown children did “everything their mothers told them to do”.  When I pointed out that she couldn’t really pull that off because it wasn’t her style, she sighed and said, “Yes, that’s true, whenever I tell one of my girls what to do, they just do the opposite!” 

Even if it didn’t seem like it, we were listening. The Sheehan girls became therapists, nurses and teachers - vocations in service of others. And even though thier paths varied, they stuck together.  “The sisters” are each others’ best friends. A priceless gift for which we are all truly grateful. .. Our children claim that we actually morph into one really loud sister whenever we’re in the same room : )  

Once their girls left home, Helen and Jack took to the road exploring Europe and the US. Later, they enjoyed wintering in Florida with her cousin, Paul and his wife Diane. They also loved vacationing with their daughters’ families.  Trips to Alaska to see Mark and Rosie, Disney with Kerry and Leah and annual excursions to the White Mountains with Allie, Julie, Johnny and Matt. 

Being “Grammy” was Helen’s true calling.  She encouraged us to “let your kids express themselves and be who they want to be”.  When she was reminded that these were not words we heard growing up, she’d giggle sheepishly and say, “well I wasn’t your grandmother!”  

Helen was very present with all her grandchildren and regailed anyone who would listen with their exploits and accomplishments. Leading the cheers at games, plays, assemblies, and graduations, her pride in Tommy, Kristyn, Mike, Mark, Rosie, Kerry, Leah, Allie, Julie, Johnny and Matt knew no bounds. 

As her grands grew, she welcomed each new partner into her heart.  Of course, she was overjoyed with her great-grandchildren, with whom she loved to snuggle and play. 

Helen was the “joie” in our family’s “joie de vie”. Our guiding light. Our queen. Always wanting to look her best, Helen was never without a matching bag or her signature red lipstick. 

Years ago, we were in church listening to the pastor’s sermon. He held up a plastic fork and asked, “What does this represent to you?” Mom and I exchanged glancecs, smiled and whisperred, “Save room for dessert!”  

The pastor related the fork and dessert to the idea that something better is waiting for us. This is what sustains us through hard times.  Of course he was talking about eternal life in Heaven, but Helen believed it worked on a practical level too.

“Don’t want to finish your mashed potatoes and peas?  There’s chocolate pudding and whipped cream waiting for you!” Anyone who knew Helen, knew she was a woman who loved to lunch; dessert her favorite course.  

Years progressed, and Helen said goodbye to her generation of loved ones: her parents, sister, sisters and brothers-in law, and most difficult, her husband Jack.  She missed them, and did not like being left behind. More recently, her physical body started to fail. Unable to drive, live alone or enjoy her independence, she turned her thoughts to what’s next.  It was time for dessert.    “I’m Ready!” she’d resolutely exclaim, only to concede, “the only reason I want to stick around is because I’m nosy … I can’t wait to see what the kids do next!”  

When talking about her eventual funeral, she shared with Andrew which songs she’d like him to sing. “You’d better do a good job”, she teased with a mischievous smile, “You know I’ll be listening!”  

Well mom, we’re listening.  Your voice is in our heads and your love is in our hearts.  Your lessons, humor and devotion to faith and family live deep within each member of this remarkable family that you and Daddy made. Remarkable. 

You left this world surrounded by family, your last words, “I Love you”. Since we know your listening, be assured, We all love you too!


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