This line from the Fureys’ song “The Old Man” always struck a chord with me and especially so today. We gathered at 12noon to celebrate my mother’s Funeral Mass. There was an overflowing crowd. Around forty priests concelebrated the Mass and Bishop Flynn presided. She’d have been in her element and I’m sure would love to have been sitting there, beside my father, to take it all in! Thanks to all who joined us, physically and spiritually to remember and pray for her. I’m putting the few words I used here so feel free to read them if you have the time and if you knew her but don’t feel any obligation to do so ………..
The following passage from St John’s Gospel (19:25-30) was the text used for the funeral Mass.
Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. Seeing his mother and the disciple he loved standing near her, Jesus said to his mother, ‘Woman, this is your son. Then to the disciple he said, ‘This is your mother’. And from that moment the disciple made a place for her in his home.
After this, Jesus knew that everything had now been completed, and to fulfil the scripture perfectly he said: ‘I am thirsty’. A jar full of vinegar stood there, so putting a sponge soaked in the vinegar on a hyssop stick they held it up to his mouth. After Jesus had taken the vinegar he said, ‘It is accomplished’; and bowing his head he gave up his spirit.
An elderly couple lived behind me when I was in Carracastle Parish. They were lovely but she was a worrier! I remember visiting one day, taking Holy Communion to the husband when suddenly the wife said “What will happen me when he dies?” I pretended I didn’t hear and hoped he hadn’t but she followed with a more direct question, “Who’ll bury me if he dies first?” Before I got a chance to answer, he spoke with a voice that had spoken before “They’ll not leave you on top!” They didn’t. May they both rest in peace.
There’s a great goodness at work on a day like this, whereby we want to do what’s best by one who has died. Today we’re doing our best by Mary. We gather to remember her, to pray for her, to remind ourselves – as if reminding were necessary – that she is much loved and will be forever missed. We want to see to it that all is done and done well for her today. We want to ensure that she is not left on top but buried with dignity and in faith because her hour has come.
Fr Gerry Walsh, R.I.P. used to talk about that great story of the Road to Emmaus being the first account of Christian bereavement – where people walked, talked and remembered one who had died – were joined along the way by Jesus, though often not recognising him – who entered into their conversation, continued their walk and joined them in the sharing of a meal. In the “breaking of bread” he was finally recognised. I always liked Gerry’s idea and believe the Gospel I just read is the first account of Christian death. We might spend a minute with it ….
“Near the Cross of Jesus” – Cross is literally at the centre of those five words and is to be found at the centre of our lives too. Where there is life, goodness and love often we find “Cross”. It comes in many forms and brings varying levels of pain. For mammy thankfully there was much love, great goodness and years of happiness but there was also “Cross” – her father died when she was very young, her mother reared the family – later in life she lost her two brothers, John and Joe so she was left alone from her family of origin and I know she deeply missed her “own people”. Sickness laid its hand on her many times – those surgeries that take away what might be called “woman” and there were heart problems too. Her hardest hit came in late 2000 when her balance became unstable and her steps unsure. There were falls to follow (more than Calvary’s three) and each took its toll. She seemed to want to mind the walker – since she usually left it in the corner – and fell without it. Amazingly she never broke a bone but she felt the pain and showed the bruising. She missed the road – the driving – the independence – she was nailed to the Cross. Finally Alzheimers called and her thoughts became unclear, her memories uncertain and her life utterly changed. Yes mammy, you knew “The Cross”.
But thankfully near the Cross was found Bill – there was nothing ABSOLUTELY nothing he didn’t try to do to make things better for her. He, who loved to be doing his own bits and pieces let go of all and sat constantly in her presence, listened for her every sound and “ignored” her when she came out with those “Maryisms” that could pierce steel, or as Paddy Conheady joked recently about his daughter and my friend Maura on her wedding day “She could cut you to the roots!” Yeah, people know what I mean – I remember the day I got my head shaved and came home. I had started to wear contact lenses as well and she didn’t like them. “What do you think Mary?”, I asked – the reply was direct “Between the lenses and the shaved head your face looks like an arse”!! Yeah, she could say it as it was and Bill did her the greatest kindness of pretending he didn’t hear. He was there though. Totally there and totally for her. He’d have made anything (and we really HAD to stop him) to help her but none of us could give her what she most wanted – good health. Bill was there though “Near the Cross of Mary stood, sat, walked, linked – LOVED – Bill” She knew you were there and so did we. THANKS for that and so, so much more.
There were others there too. Gerard, Kieran, Helena, Kate, Mary (her “Home Help”), Maudie Grady, The Shannons, Mary Margaret who came from Richmond to spend time with her and Jeanie Korves who accompanied Mary Margaret on that journey, Mick and Mary Staunton, Fr John Doherty, Fr Gabriel, Maureen O’Neill, Marian Hunt, Phil Molloy, Madge Taheny, John and Gertrude Crummy, Bridget Mary Lavin, The Caseys, Dwyers, Gallaghers, Goldricks (all her cousins) – and so many more who called to visit. There was Ian and Haddar, Thomas Sherlock, Jimmy and Nora, Declan Sherlock of course, Hal and Evie and all who did their bit for her. Especially near mammy’s Cross was Ronan, Bill and Aaron – three of her grandsons who spent countless hours with her and daddy – hours that were not what most young lads would be expected to spend. Doing for her as best they could – All I can say is that you’ll look back on your lives and be glad you did all you did. There was another “grandson” by adoption – Conor McKeon “The lad of the Tahenys” who through his friendship with Bill and Aaron became one of the “carers” too. They spent nights in our house that just involved “being there” and listening out for Mary and Bill. We’ll never forget you for that. Likewise, Cathal, Aobh, Cillian and Bronagh – you meant the world to her and so also to us. To all, who stood near mammy’s Cross and I know there are names I’ve not mentioned here but you know who you are – whatever you did, be it help her walk up the church here when she came to Sunday Mass, call in at home and bring her and daddy out for a drive or for a bite to eat, call to visit for a while, phone her, send a card or a letter, light a candle or say a prayer – whatever you did, whoever you are, know that it’s deeply and forever appreciated. I’m personally grateful to all in Monasteraden and Ballaghaderreen Parish who have asked me down through the years “How is your mother”? Your interest and genuine concern was a real comfort to me. I’m thankful too for the friendship and support of Fr Dermot and Fr Gerry in the presbytery, Bishop Brendan and Bishop Tom – for James McDonagh’s constant support and the many priests of our diocese and beyond who were her friends and mine. Like those named in the Gospel passage – you stood by Mary’s Cross. For that and for all your thoughts, prayers and kindness may you be forever rewarded.
Mary didn’t want to be sick. Certainly she didn’t suffer silently. I remember saying that to her one time after attending a Funeral Mass where the priest talked about the one who had died having suffered greatly and in silence – “She never complained”. “I won’t be able to say that about you Mary”, I told her. In fairness, she laughed …… She hated being sick. She’d have coped with the surgeries. Cosmetic appearance was never high on her agenda but being able to move was. She loved that freedom. Loss of that freedom was the heaviest burden she bore. Like Jesus, she was “thirsty” and thankfully we tried to quench that thirst. There are no regrets today. Mary was never offered “vinegar to drink” (daddy did overdose her on Wine Gums, Jellybabies and any other sweets he could bring to her every evening in the nursing home). It was lovely to see him attend to her like that. He offered her a sweet as Jesus offered her Eucharist. She gladly accepted both and was nourished in the receiving.
So today, it is “accomplished”. Mammy has died. Our hearts are torn and our tomorrow unsure but for today, it is “accomplished” and we gather so that she not be “left on top” but buried with love and dignity. Our prayer is that she joins all those she knew and loved who have gone before her and that, having joined them, she prays for all of us left behind.
At the end of the Funeral Mass I wanted to thank some people who had helped in special ways – people like Declan and Eithne McGarry and their staff in the Oakwood Nursing Home. Others who travelled from England for the Mass and all who had come along to support us. I wanted to thank the people of Cloonloo and Moygara who had been my mother’s “world” for most of her life. I hoped to thank anyone that maybe I’d forgotten to thank or mention earlier. I also mentioned Linda Shannon who is my cousin’s wife. Linda visited home a lot and often did little jobs for my mother that others mightn’t have been able to do.
There was one, in particular, I mentioned. Mary Margaret sent my mother a cardigan last year. It was very “feminine” and my mother didn’t always relish that particular attribute in her clothes so she asked Linda to take the cardigan and to make it bigger by pulling and dragging it and whatever it took! Linda agreed and did the necessary. So far, as they say, so good!
Bishop Brendan was ordained at the end of January 2008. A few weeks later he joined us for Sunday Mass in Monasteraden and for a cup of tea in the school after Mass. When we were leaving I asked if he’d come home to meet Mary and Bill and he graciously agreed. We travelled to the house and I knew they’d be delighted to meet him. I hadn’t told them this might happen. He was well received by Mary and Bill and was lovely with them.
What has this to do with the cardigan? A good question. Well, Linda did what she was asked to do and somehow managed to make it bigger than the makers intended. It looked particularly fetching on the day. Just one small problem ……………. BILL was wearing it 🙂 I couldn’t believe it. I walked in and there was my mother dressed in her typical v-neck pullover and my father wearing a woman’s cardigan, complete with jewels and little additions that were not meant for his shoulders!! I feared the bishop might have some concerns about my father’s dress sense!!!!
My mother laughed so much when she realised what Bill had been wearing. It was a good moment! God bless her, him and everyone!
Fr John Finn:
At the end of Mass, I read an email that I had received from Fr John Finn. John is from Gurteen and is a priest in New Orleans. For many years he has been a great friend to my family. When he’d visit Ireland, he’d call to see us a lot and my parents always enjoyed him and his stories. I loved the email he sent – not least for its closing line which seemed to sum up the way I felt about mammy’s sudden death at the end of a difficult illness and my hope that she could have stayed with us a bit longer. I’ll close these lines with John’s email …….