Cover photo for Helen Tatnell Pyecha's Obituary
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1928 Helen 2021

Helen Tatnell Pyecha

September 14, 1928 — August 6, 2021

Click here to view the Livestream service.

Helen Tatnell Pyecha passed away peacefully, early Friday morning after long-fought battle with dementia. She was carried to heaven on the rays of the rising sun. Her light remains and burns bright in our hearts.

In Our Father’s Home, Helen is reunited with her mother (Maria Fornaciari), father (Augustus Tatnell), sisters (Gloria, Rosina, Julia) and brothers (James, George, Robert) as well as granddaughter (Jordan), all of whom are sure to have welcomed her with open arms.

Helen lived a full and busy life as wife to John, her devoted husband of 65 years and mother to their 6 children (Anna, John, James, George, Lisa, Jane). But it was as ‘Nonni’ to their 12 grandchildren (Maria, Alex, Jessie, Nick, Rob, Matt, Tori, Ashley, Casey, Ali, Caleb, Gigi), and 2 great-grandchildren (Sofie, Trace), that she truly allowed herself let go and enjoy the ride. She coached us through first baths and whooping cough – and marveled at the things that had changed since we were children. She ADORED her Grands, keeping stocks of candy and treats for them as well as guilty pleasures like ice-cream and Fritos to enjoy stolen moments with us. She smothered them with cuddles and kisses and truly engaged in every precious moment. We are all blessed to have enjoyed her in this light.

Outside of the home, Helen loved golf and was an accomplished golfer. She and John spent many wonderful rounds at their club and on golf vacations together – including St Andrew in Scotland. She also excelled in creative pursuits, fashioning works of art with needlepoint, crochet and knitting.

Her upbringing was a major factor in defining Helen. She was born and raised in Essex, England in turbulent times– it was this environment that forged her strength and her faith. She survived the ravages of tuberculosis, prevalent in those times, which took her father and 3 brothers. World War II was played out in her backyard - her mother, Italian, had a café, which supported her and her children. The family had a shelter where they survived the bombings that required them to rebuild their home twice, after being heavily damaged. She never enjoyed fireworks or loud noises – a lasting effect of war. This adversity created a strong bond and love with her mother and sisters, and though spread out across England, Italy and the US, this bond remained strong throughout their lives.

In 1956, Helen traveled across ‘the Pond’ via ocean liner to accompany her sister ‘Tich’ in joining her husband in their new home. It was here, in Los Angeles, that she caught the attention of a young baseball player, John Pyecha who was instantly smitten with beautiful Helen. He initiated their courtship by asking if she would mend his socks. That might not work today, but that fumbling introduction led to a proposal, a May wedding 4 weeks later and the launch of an epic marriage.

Their union began on the west coast but relocated as a result of John’s career transition from baseball due to a shoulder injury. This transition took them to Weisbaden, Germany where John served as a mathematics teacher, and a basketball and football coach. After 5 years, they moved on to Athens Greece where John served as Director of Athletics and Recreation for military personnel in Greece and Turkey. After 2 years they returned to Chapel Hill, where he earned his PhD at UNC and made a final career achievement as a Senior Research Analyst at the Research Triangle Institute in RTP, NC.

Helen had a tencil strength – she was unmoving in her convictions but readily adapted to the many changes and challenges that came with this nomadic lifestyle. She raised 5 children with John, moved them multiple times over 3 countries - following the path John’s career led them. She shouldered the heavy lifting to move house, home and her young children in doing so. This required an adherence to discipline. When Helen spoke or shot a look, her kids fell into line which ensured they navigated each move efficiently and arrived in their new landscape unscathed. John admires the fact that she never complained, just put her head down and pushed through.

In 1964, Helen and John settled in for the long haul in Chapel Hill, NC where the adventurous couple added child #6 (Jane) and lived happily together until they moved into their retirement home in Raleigh, NC.

This is where the deep love and devotion, forged in a marriage of 65 years was brought to bear as dementia took over Helen’s body. John refused to put his beautiful bride in a care facility, opting instead, to keep her home in a loving and familiar environment.

Helen adored her husband and was happy just ‘being’ with him. The light rose in her eyes every day when he came into her room with ‘Good Mornings!’ and counted kisses. And her eyes closed in peaceful sleep with his ‘Good nights and God Blesses’. He was Helen’s lighthouse, a reassuring and familiar beacon in a state of confusion. With the assistance of 4 angels in the form of caregivers (Nidia Sabalsa, Diana Edwards, Tausi Brooks, Lucia Johns), he provided the care and coaching that gave Helen the gift of a beautiful life in which he patiently loved and cherished her over the last years of her decline.

Their marriage ended with a final ‘Good night, God Bless’ and a kiss that was still on her lips as her final breath left her. Their love lives on in the hearts of her family and serves as a lasting reminder that marriage is forged by strength and devotion. And when it’s tempered in courage the resulting love can overcome any challenge.

Her passing leaves a hole that cannot be filled but her strength, her wit, her vulnerability, and her love carry on in us all.

In addition to John and her children, Helen is survived by sister, Theresa ‘Tich’ Hricinak, who resides in Brevard, NC with her husband John.

Helen Elizabeth, Maria Lucia Tatnell Pyecha will be celebrated in a Funeral Mass at St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Chapel Hill, NC, where she and John have been longtime and active parishioners, Monday, August 16, 2021 at 10:30am. Her ashes will be interred in the onsite Columbarium immediately following Mass.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations be made to a charity of choice in Helen’s name.

Click here to view the Livestream service.
To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Helen Tatnell Pyecha, please visit our flower store.

Service Schedule

Past Services

Mass

Monday, August 16, 2021

Starts at 10:30 am (Eastern time)

St. Thomas More Catholic Church

South Christopher Road, Chapel Hill, NC 27514

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