Archive for January, 2019

Be At Peace Gentle Mother

Funeral Homily

Nell (Ellen) Hilliard

Friday 28thDecember 2018

St. Brendan’s Church Coolock[1].

 

 

At a time like this one struggles to find a point of strength to speak from. Like an Olympic one-hundred-meter runner you try to find the perfect, faultless positioning that will allow you spring out of your starting block to make a perfect start so you can make a perfect finish. But this is not life. Those like mam and dad know that perfection is an ideal that causes you to sometimes ignore your reality. You start from where you are, and you work with what you’ve got. Maybe this is a mistake with our Church that somehow it expected people to start with perfection rather their reality.

And so, at a time of grief and loss and thanksgiving where do you start? We are mostly pulled into memory. This has been a practice for those who stopped by to converse with Nell over the last few years. On these occasions memories and remembering were strong because consciousness of the present was weakening. For all of us, especially in the immediate family, memory of the past can be stronger and more nourishing and easier to step into rather than the confusion of the present.

Memory for us has been a flat-bottomed boat back from England as returning emigrants with churning stomachs; two babies in a mother’s arms while the father was busy trying to find his sea-legs. Early days in Cabra, with grandad and us seated on the crossbar of his bike and days spent in allotments and markets with the stunning, refreshing smells of the earth’s goodness. Lettuce, scallions, potatoes and cabbages were lifted from the ground and stored in boxes and crates only to be dispatched to shop-fronts and stalls. Walks to the Phoenix Park on Sundays to view the animals in the zoo with my brother and myself thinking that all the animals had stripes because we only saw them through the bars of the perimeter fence. We seldom got in and when we protested, we were told to think about the starving children of the world. We got to know the space in the fence where you could see the sea-lions being fed at four o’clock before the return home. The treat of luscious ice-cream wafers at the gate and as they were handed over you were told ‘don’t dribble’ and ‘stop slinging’ in between the conversations that mam, dad and her sister had on the tired walk back along the Norrier.

Memory takes us into the lanes of Coolock as people rubbed pennies together to make life livable. Memories of the house being two bricks off the ground and the pram being flung off the back of the open backed blue and cream, double-decker bus as it swerved around the roundabout in Artane. Schools and Churches and shops grew smaller as communities grew bigger. Our young minds couldn’t work out how every time we went on holidays to a kindly aunt, we came home to find a new child in the corner of the room with wispy red-hair. I can still smell each beautiful new life that graced us. I think this experience gave us a pathological hatred for holidays, fearful of what might be found on return, but those red headed parcels always brought blessings and joy; a lot of friction but mostly fun. Sometimes you only know the power of love when shadows cross it and it escapes you for a brief moment, but you can find your way back to it.

With all the new life in those memories there was struggle for space and expression as everything  appears to grow and flourish into the once empty cupboards and corners and the home continues to become a container for many food stuffs and types and life itself, it holds stories and loves, crisis and adventure, and it absorbs everything letting the rest of the world pass by and still the pennies are rubbed together and others come to delight us who continue the tradition of dribbles and slinging and the licks of ice-cream.

There are many more memories of trips to Australia, when Nell would slip off on her own to climb the Harbour Bridge because it was opened in 1932, the year she was born. (Warning us not to tell dad it cost $100 as he’d think she’d lost the plot. ‘Tell him it cost $10’ she said emphatically). There are walks on Legan roads after forensically separating weeds from young seedlings and there are memories of horses, horses, and even more horses…whether those horses be at gymkhanas, Horse-Shows, or the races, or ones that nudge their heads over country hedges-rows to say hello.

But memory is not enough to bring back the one you love. Memory in our tradition of faith is strong; memory makes present the One who came among us and who is remembered in this wonderous Christmas Season and who through memory and grace stays among us in the Eucharist – it is our Catholic way of reaching out to what could be beyond.  But somehow, for those we love, human memory just lets us see them in a distant haze and we reach out as we try to catch them, and it is as if we are trying to grasp a moon beam and we simply can’t. So, we turn to the most ancient of traditions which is story.

A priest I met in Rwanda told me that before the genocide he made the mistake of seeing the Gospel as something written on paper. After the genocide, with very little paper left, he said he discovered the gospel written in the lives of his people. This remains his ministry today, naming and celebrating the Gospel alive in people when it is found and then seeking and encouraging it when it is lost from view. And so, to story for us today.

James rang on Friday to say mam didn’t look great and luckily one of us could call by to see her…both of them have the knack of being in the right place at the right time. I sat at the same time with a couple who are to be married on the 29thof June which when I sat with them, I told them that it was the feast of St Peter and Paul. A feast remembering two people who were very different yet who believed the same thing deeply – a model for anyone and as I looked at them, they didn’t know it, but I saw mam and dad lying in their bed at home… and I immersed myself in their life and saw how whackingly diverse they are and were but how deeply connected they remain beneath all that diversity. And as I held them and their story in my heart, I said to the couple that a good couple reflect what society is presently hungry for, namely how to live with diversity that is without divisiveness.

And again, another story of a student who was with me on Thursday who was dealing with issues that we refer today as mental health problems and we spoke about life and its challenges and it’s fraughtness and the pain and the lostness of it all. The pear-shaped-ness of life these days leaves young people without boundaries wherein they can hold the sweetness of life, container-like from which they can drink deeply of the gifts of this life. We agreed that he’d go home and study his grandparents and how they use habit and routine to dig into life and in so doing find contentment and savour it. And now he tells me he’s doing great. It beats medication! And it that moment I saw mam and dad with the practiced routines over the years of genuflections and visits and caring’s and stoppings and dog-walking’s and horse- backing allowing them to withstand whatever was thrown at them. Living like unenclosed monks they commit to a rule of life, so the world does not steal what is important and of value to them. Then you see in their tapestry of stories and habits how we who are left can close the gap between the anxieties of today’s world and the contentment of theirs. I’m sure and indeed I know that their level of contentment was directly proportional to the increase in anxiety for us their children at various stages! However, it was the loss of these habits that began the journey towards the end of Nell’s earthly life, but it was these habits which allowed them to live a deeply connected life to the full when they could.

And then there is the story of two people who loved to sleep and loved watching on the world through their upstairs window these last few years. Many a young couple would like to boast of having spent over two years in bed together. It was where they were most content; not necessarily in bed but in the company of the other. One night I climbed quietly up the stairs and asked, ‘are you asleep?’ to which came the reply, ‘I’m not but your mother is…but we are holding hands’. They were stubborn (one more than the other) and I noted the only two things to get them to sit bolt upright in their beds together like Nell’s baby brother Conor on military parade. The first was the words ‘Dr. Tarek’ and the other was ‘would you like to receive communion?’. Isn’t it a beautiful, joyful and ironic thing that the Catholic faith community in the local area (and that includes the priest and sisters) are being kept alive by a good, God-fearing and gracious man who happens to be a Muslim and isn’t this community blessed with him…Enshallah.

And then those moments of Eucharist when they’d sit up like two children and Nell’s prayer and Bill’s outreached arms would take the world into the room. She prays out loud for those that had no roof and no food and knew only loneliness. There were few prayers said for self but mostly for others and then there were the quite moments when she prayed reverently for those most precious to her. They were prayers that revealed a world that was deeply interconnected and interdependent and we know now that this connection and dependency is needed more than ever before as we have left ourselves in more and more global dangers and her prayer knew it. She was no sociologist, yet she knew about the risky axis on which our globe rests and she did her best to show us how to hold it all together. And I’d leave them to share their silence and I’d fumble in the kitchen for a while. You know when the prayers were said, and she’d be letting you know that it was time to move on. Her equivalent to ‘The Mass is ended’ was ‘any chance of a cup of tea’…pause…’and don’t be stingy with the biscuits’. It is at privileged times like this that you know if people both heard and listened to the voice of God that this world, like Nell and Bills lives, would hold together well, especially in tumultuous times.

Good story is Good News which is Gospel not lost to pages but lived. It is the self-same ‘Word made Flesh’ of this Christmas time but is a constant in every conceivable moment. People go searching to Davos and UN’s; to Brussels and to Bonn to find how the world can be put in order and we have heard the answers at the foot of a bed. To listen, to hear, to contemplate and to act to the best of our abilities is a privilege that we as siblings and in-laws have shared. Whether it be diversity, habit or deeply interconnected prayer…this world needs to hear the good news Gospel Stories that come not from parapets of power but from two women who are cousins in our Gospel today who meet and share their joys and two great people in bed on a road in one of Dublin’s suburbs. This tells us that the Gospel dwells among us and while we miss the personalities that proclaimed those Gospels…we need to remind ourselves that the world needs us to make use of their example. The words of our second reading from St. Pauls Letter to the Philippians make this point more forcibly; ‘Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me.  Then the God of peace will be with you’.

Peace does not always fall easily into our laps. One very wise friend of mine said one day ‘you never really mature until you learn to forgive your parents’. She meant by that that we don’t go through individual moments where there was hurt and pain, but we forgive because they are just like us; people trying to weave together a story that sometimes finds its way into cul-de-sacs. There is not perfect way only the best way that we can find despite our failings and blemishes; this is why we forgive because we are fellow pilgrims not one generation lording it over another.

It is also a Gospel thing to huddle into an upper room and to lock the door because there is grief, confusion and loss that which we call hope. Some today may think that the Gospel is just a token to keep things right rather than that which is at the core of all. For Nell and Bill, the Gospel is as relevant at parties and dances as when one is full fear and anxiety. We who are grief-stricken huddle now for the Breath of Life to breath on us as we know it will. Into that locked room we bring our fear, our losses and our angers and our frustrations but we trust that the God of Life will breath into this chaos as she did into mams life these last days.

It is in this upper room that we realise that memory alone can leave us bitter, pining and sad. It is the Breath of God that gives us platform to build on what has been given to us with such nobility and warmth when embraced by mercy and forgiveness. For all of us in this Church we can stay stuck in the upper room of our own desolation or wait patiently for the breath of God to weave our lives into the wonderful stories that have been so graciously passed on to us…those Gospels of love and hope that can change our world for the good. Even though we celebrate and make present the Last Supper today let us remember what happened when those in the locked room were breathed upon. The doors opened and they met the Lord for breakfast symbolising the start of a new day, the start of a new life full of purpose and direction because they built their new life on Gospel, good news stories. This is the best starting block for any of our futures regardless of our situations. And as Dad said when we prepared this homily on Christmas Day ‘talk is cheap…no use talking about it…get on with it’. Enjoy your breakfast!

[1]This homily was prepared by Alan Hilliard in consultation with Nell’s husband Bill.

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