"To all who offer care. All who pray for me. Thank you"

Helena Strömbo Ershag, Norran's editor-in-chief, was also an integral member of the Norran English team for nearly a year. Many of you will have seen her and spoken to her at newcomer events in 2023, especially the Christmas get-together at Exploratoriet. She also wrote for Norran English - her brilliant guide to a Swedish Christmas was the most recent. Sadly, she's been very ill for a while, and, this Easter Sunday, she passed away. This is our translation of her final column for Norran, written a couple of weeks before her untimely death. Helena will be deeply missed.

Helena Strömbro Ershag was not only an excellent journalist, but was also very kind. She will be deeply missed.

Helena Strömbro Ershag was not only an excellent journalist, but was also very kind. She will be deeply missed.

Foto: Helena Strömbro Ershag

Krönika2024-04-02 20:00

This will be my last column in Norran. After emergency surgery for a perforated stomach ulcer, additional complications have arisen, and I find myself hospitalized in the surgical ward waiting for... Godot? Well, more than anything, I'm waiting for the certainty of what comes next.

Having hovered between life and death, I now have a one-way ticket to "don't know when, how or where, but I'm coming."

Incredibly, I've been granted enough time to talk through a lot of things with many of the people that I love. We've been able to say things that usually go unsaid in everyday life. 

Throughout all this, I've thought a lot about spirituality. Or what should I call it? Astrology, healing, and nature mysticism have never been my cup of tea. I lean more towards the traditional.

I'm not a particularly spiritual person, really. But I've gone through a period of intense pain that has drained me physically and mentally, and then, of course, there's the whole process of preparing for my own death.

Helena Strömbrö Ershag, editor-in-chief of Norran, died on Sunday.

When I've shared selected parts of this experience in my columns, I've received an incredible outpouring of love. People rally around me. There have been calls and encouraging messages, flowers, small gifts, warm greetings, a virtual wave of love and support. And there have been prayers.

It's very touching. Those who call for a supreme being to intercede are sometimes mocked. "Pray for Gaza." No, that won't help anyone. Do something instead! Demonstrate, send money, sign a petition, use your voice and take a stand.

Yes, maybe. But in some cases, when cancer is growing in someone's body, and you can't exert an influence on that in any concrete way, what can you do then? 

Some people kindly offer to cook or clean for my family, making our daily lives easier. A former colleague of my husband's, someone I've never even met, sent me a beautiful bag of carefully chosen stones and crystals, each believed to offer various benefits. 

Offers have poured in: visits with shamans, advice to try a celery diet, and deliveries of health products. While not everything chimes with me, the underlying impulse to help has warmed my heart.

I grew up in the EFS church (the Swedish Evangelical Mission), and even though, as an adult, neither the theology, nor the actual practice of religion quite made sense to me, I can't deny it has shaped me socially and culturally.

People praying to God doesn't strike me as unusual. I find solace in it myself. When I feel powerless, it's a comfort to have someone to reach out to, to hand over the situation to, until I can reclaim my fighting spirit. Prayer in moments of desperation might be a very human response, even for those who wouldn't consider themselves particularly religious.

Love, care, and prayers from the hospital bed.

But many Christians I know go further. They have a structured approach to prayer. Prayer is a communal effort for them, with dedicated times for evening prayers at home and group sessions in their congregation. Here, they methodically intercede for all those they think need support. I'm pretty sure my grandmother diligently prayed for all her children and grandchildren every night of her life.

Thus, I sometimes receive messages or greetings from people I don't even know, saying they are praying for me. 

There are prayer groups from Austria to Gothenburg to Piteå where people completely unknown to me devote their time to try to activate the highest power they know of, for my sake. They pray for miracles and healing, but mostly for me to have the strength to handle the various situations I must face and which sometimes overwhelm me. Recently, I've been the focus of many powerful entreaties via intercessory prayer — it's really a very comforting feeling.

But how do I respond other than to say thank you? Even though my faith in God is shaky, I do actually believe that there is an energy or force that permeates the world, perhaps divine, and all of us humans are a part of it. I think the energy can possibly be influenced. People have different ways of trying to have an impact on this force, whether that's balancing chakras or targeting prayers.

I'm also afraid of getting too tangled up in mumbo jumbo. I would never abandon traditional medicine, for example. I am incredibly grateful for everyone caring for me, from my oncologist and surgeons to all the nurses and caregivers. Their dedication to my comfort is total. They are amazing people!

But it's nice to have something else to lean on, even if it's just a thoughtful tradition that offers solace, and nothing more.

I have a favorite hymn that has stuck with me: "Blott en dag" (Day by Day). It's known as a funeral hymn, but it's really about strength throughout life. In fact, we sang it at our wedding. “As thy days, thy strength shall be in measure”, it says. A promise from God.

For me, it means that every day I get the strength to deal with all the problems I face. Perhaps it even means we won't be burdened with situations beyond our capacity to endure.

Reality, of course, often proves harsher. Many face burdens that far exceed their strength. And for me, "Blott en dag" will now serve as my funeral hymn as well.

But until then, to everyone who offers support and care, in whichever way you choose. To all who pray for me.

Thank you.

Helena Strömbro Ershag was not only an excellent journalist, but was also very kind. She will be deeply missed.
Helena Strömbro Ershag

Norran's editor-in-chief and esteemed columnist Helena Strömbro Ershag passed away on Sunday after a period of illness.

Helena stepped into the role of editor-in-chief and responsible publisher at Norran in April 2020. This appointment came after a successful career where she honed her skills in various fields. Prior to becoming editor-in-chief Helena thrived as a copywriter, innovation leader, and strategist, particularly within leadership and branding at the agency Krux.

Her strong leadership background proved valuable when Norran became part of Norr Media and NTM in 2020. This significant change became Helena's first major undertaking as editor-in-chief.

Diagnosed with cancer two years ago, Helena bravely continued to work through parts of her illness, demonstrating incredible resilience.

She played a vital role in the Norran English project, providing essential local journalism for new Skellefteå residents. She also captivated readers with her personal columns. Through her honest and insightful writing, Helena invited readers into her world, offering a unique perspective on everyday life. These columns, tackling big questions from a personal lens, resonated deeply with many, as evidenced by the outpouring of support she received after her final piece.

"Helena's leadership and dedication were invaluable to Norran," says Malin Christoffersson, editor-in-chief and responsible publisher. "Her popular columns, where she openly shared her experiences with a serious illness, made a profound impact on our readers. We know many people reached out to her after her last piece, and she cherished the kind messages."

Helena's absence will be deeply felt by her family, friends, and colleagues at Norran. We remember her as a talented journalist, a source of inspiration, and an extremely kind soul who touched the lives of many.