I dream that I’m travelling on an old ship, something like the Naomh Eanna but bigger. It is night time and very stormy. Making my way through the bar there are lots of people watching rugby on a modern black plasma wide-screen which is suspend high on the wall. At the far end I go through a door onto the deck. The ship is swaying heavily from side to side and the sea is black and foaming. The destination is Hollyhead but suddenly in the middle of the Irish Sea there’s a pier where the ship docks. I think the ship is coming in too fast, that it will crash against the pier but in the end it heaves and rests gently.
And then the morning comes. I’m still out on deck in the calm after the storm. A large bucket of jelly is standing on a table. Susan and I are sitting on deckchairs. She’s as she was when I met her last Friday and she has a book open in her hands. She’s on my right hand side and I’m eating a bowl of red jelly. She says to me “It’s really very easy”.
It was an answer to prayer. I had asked God to let me dream of her so that I would know what to say. It brought everything together.
Susan has come through the night and the storm of her illness to the ease of the morning and a new day. For her it is easy now and somehow in the mystery of God’s plan this is her time; those who love her and need her are beginning the night of grief. Her death has come too soon, as the death of Jesus did for his mother Mary. It is well said in a song by Neil Diamond from Hot August Night in 1972. The song is ‘Done Too Soon’ - and it lists a whole lot of famous people and the last verse says:
And each one there
Has one thing shared
They have sweated beneath the same sun
Looked up in wonder at the same moon
And wept when it was all done
For bein' done too soon
There is a sadness that life passes too quickly and that our life is “done too soon” and still we must look in wonder at the moon and the sun and be uplifted.
I’ve only known Susan for a week, our first meeting being last Friday when I went to see her at home, and the first thing that struck me on entering the house was its wonderful sense of light. It was the physical design and it was even more so the personal presence of Susan sitting in the middle of that light. As I’ve discovered within the space of a few days it is also the light of the whole family living there, the light of their love for each other, a love that has extended itself and drawn many others into its embrace. The wider family, neighbours and friends.
She became ill last June with ovarian cancer and it was downhill from then on. She had just come out of hospital and was wearing one of those caps that women wear to cover the ravages of chemo, covering her head to keep warm. We connected immediately and she valued the prayer I said with her, the prayer of the Holy Spirit which is constant in her own very breathing, the Spirit reaching into the very depths of her.
On Sunday evening her sister Jane came here to say she had taken a turn for the worse. So I went down to the house where she was in bed. Her husband John stayed with us for the prayer. I asked her if she had a favourite prayer and she said the Hail Mary so we prayed that together. On Monday she was moved to Blackrock hospice where I visited her and anointed her that afternoon. She still had no talk of dying. I met her son Sean who is in his early 20’s and daughter Katie who is 17 and doing her Leaving Cert. Extremely hard for them. On Tuesday night I went in again, gave her absolution and prayed a bit with her preparing her for the journey without being too blatant. She was alert and still had no talk of dying. She insisted she would see me tomorrow.
On Wednesday morning I had a text from her husband John to say she had died peacefully at 9.00 am. They brought her home to the house to wake her for two nights.
Susan was faithful to her nature, the nature created by God, she naturally radiated light and joy. The little statement at the end of her death notice is appropriate “Always Smiling” - this was her nature, it was her nature to love and enjoy this life God gave her, to travel, to enjoy rugby, to host parties. Above all to love her family - originally as a daughter and sister. And then the completion of her life, the fulfillment of her life as wife to John and mother to Sean and Katie.
It is part of her legacy to all of us that we should be true to our own God-given nature and not try to be like any other, not try to be what we are not. There is no other.
Our Lady accompanied her beloved Son Jesus in his death and she witnessed the miracle of his resurrection. She accompanied Susan in her last days in the simple praying of the Hail Mary. I had a real sense of Mary being there and I wanted to give Susan a miraculous medal. I have lots of them but couldn’t find one. But in the night before she died her sister Jane said that Susan should have a religious object. Jane’s daughter Louise had an old miraculous medal that had belonged to Susan’s father, so they gave it to Susan. It rested between her fingers in her coffin. It seems to me to be an indication of Our Lady’s presence and a connection with the strong faith of a previous generation.
As Mary accompanied Susan in death, she accompanies her in being raised up to resurrection; she accompanies you in the simple praying of the Hail Mary. And in accompanying all of us she leads us to Jesus her Son.