We were here in the church this morning for the funeral of Patricia who, with her twin sister, turned ten a few weeks ago. Eleven months ago she was diagnosed with cancer and I first met her in February when she was brought to the church in a wheelchair. I prayed with her, anointed her, wished with all my heart that I could save her, heal her. She wondered why a good girl like her had to be so sick.
At Mass last Sunday we heard these words from the Bible “You have been trusted to look after something precious; guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.” 1 Timothy 1:6-8. The something precious is the message of Jesus and it is the precious gift of life. Last Sunday was the Day For Life in the UK and Ireland.
We heard that word in the morning, and in afternoon Fr. John and I went to visit and pray with Patricia and her family in Lauralynn Hospice where she had been admitted two days earlier.
The preciousness of life was declared by Patricia in every difficult breath she took; everything about her said she would live, wanted to live right up to the very end. She did not want to die. She wanted to live the precious gift of her life.
The preciousness of her life was expressed in those deep, beautiful, thoughtful eyes of hers. As we were leaving I turned back to touch her cheek and she looked up at me with serenity even as she struggled to breathe.
The preciousness of her life was and is in every thought and heartbeat of her parents, and also in her brother and sister who hardly realize what’s happening. They have been trusted with something precious and they have guarded it with all the strength and love of their hearts.
It has been an incredibly difficult year – they have taken a constant battering without any break or respite. This is not what any parent wants for their child.
Patricia died on Monday night around 10pm October 3rd listening to the song ‘See You Again’ by Charlie Puth. I went there Tuesday morning before she was taken to be embalmed. She looked so beautiful, the trace of a smile on her lips.
Lauralynn is an amazing place – the facilities and most of all the staff. They are kind, thoughtful, welcoming and have an attentiveness to every need including the spiritual.
The family spent the rest of the week there in the butterfly suite where Patricia was laid out in the midst of the constant gathering of friends, especially the Filipino community.
Someone asked me today how I coped going to a place like that and what did I say. I don’t remember anything of what I said. Mostly I was simply there and we all were comfortable in each other’s presence. It was a time of presence and prayer and all kinds of human interaction. The young people and children made it easier because they remained so natural throughout.
And so we arrived at this morning. The white coffin entering the church for the 10 am Mass, the sound of the school children’s choir singing “there are many rooms in my Father’s house”, the sight of her grieving parents.
I found it hard to begin the Mass. Instead of words it was tears that came up in me and for a moment I thought I might not manage at all. But there is grace for the moment. And there was grace at the end when Patricia’s mother stood up to speak. Such courage and strength. Such presence and love. She had said to her friend Fr. Gerry and I yesterday evening what a privilege it was for them that four priests would celebrate the funeral Mass. We both said that the privilege is ours, that we are the ones being inspired by her and her husband.
And such raw, dignified emotion that flowed from the congregation. The congregation after Mass coming up to view the open coffin, to sympathize. The tears of the children cut through to the heart and it was the bereaved who became the consolers as sometimes happens in such tragic circumstances.
Humanly this is a reality that’s hard to take in, a mystery impossible to fathom without faith and it is when we turn to Jesus and Mary that we find a connection for our suffering, a connection that is beyond what we can say or think.
Patricia’s suffering and that of her family is taken into the sufferings of Jesus himself – in His agony and crucifixion. Their prayer is taken into the prayer of His suffering, their question into His question. His prayer and His question are one and the same, “my God my God, why have you forsaken me?”
This prayer, this question gives us the permission to express before God exactly what we are feeling in all its raw truthfulness. I know in their faith the parents have no wish to question God or to go against God. But there is no disrespect in expressing the pain of the human heart. The Bible is full of such expressions of pain.
Staying close to Jesus in this raw truth will eventually bring us to the point of surrender when we can say with Him and in Him “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit, my child, my sister, my friend, my pain.” But that surrender is a way down the road. It doesn’t come before its time.
The teacher and the children in the class have planted Patricia’s garden in the school where they placed in the earth daffodil bulbs that will produce beautiful flowers in the spring.
Maybe the bulb that is planted in the soil can be a symbol of what Patricia had to endure and what she has become, who she has become in her new life in heaven. The daffodil bulb has to wait in the dark cold of the earth through the winter before it becomes the beautiful daffodil flower that will bloom.
We can’t be unaware of the pain, but the growth of the flower asks us to look forward in hope. Jesus calls us to look forward in hope to the new life that we will share in eternity, to the new life that can emerge from grief here in this world.
And if we look back as we must it is to remember the blessedness, the beauty, the courage of this child and all the wonderful moments she brought to this precious life.
There are two others who came to mind in prayer yesterday, two of the children of Fatima who had experienced the apparition of our Blessed Mother – they died at the ages of 9 and 10 and I feel they have a connection and a hope to offer in this tragic situation.
As the coffin was leaving the church the children’s choir sang the Charlie Puth song,
In my restlessness this afternoon I went bringing communion to the elderly at home and with them encountered other expressions of the preciousness of life that is hidden away from the eyes of the world and often treated as irrelevant.
One lady who is still full of spunk and fun in the midst of her pain was very moved and cried for the death of Patricia. And then she spoke passionately about the poll in the Irish Times which says that 75 percent of the Irish people want to repeal the 8th Amendment. So angry was she that she threw the paper into the bin. She cannot understand why a country that was so taken up with equality one year ago is now ready to take away the equal right to life of the child in the womb. And she wonders “do these people never think about God?”
It brings back to me a piece in the Irish Examiner last week by Peadar Tobin, a politician I don’t often agree with (his party more than him) and it’s worth mentioning here in the context of the Word, “You have been trusted to look after something precious; guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.”
The piece in the Examiner reads:
DON’T REPEAL THE RIGHT TO LIFE – Reduce poverty, invest in maternity, perinatal and child care instead’
100 years ago through the Proclamation, Republicans from throughout Ireland set forth a progressive vision for a new independent Ireland. Equality was at the centre of that new vision. At the heart of the proclamation is the objective to ‘cherish all the children of the nation equally’. This Republican objective is at the heart of my viewpoint.
An unborn child is an individual living human being and therefore entitled to Human Rights. I believe Human Rights should be universal and that the most vulnerable sections of humanity should not be removed from these rights. (Peadar Tobin TD Sinn Fein)A Prayer for Our Earth
All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
(Excerpt from A Prayer for Our Earth from Laudato Si’)
I’ve just had a text from Patricia’s mother. She writes, “Today, I witnessed God’s love in spite of what we are experiencing now through all the people who have shown us love and support. If it is not too much to ask and if you get the chance (possibly through Facebook) kindly thank the people of Shankill for us.”
Another expression of the graciousness of this great mother.