On Friday March 3rd, we celebrated the Funeral Mass of Nuala Hawkins in St Joesph’s Church, Urlaur. Nuala had been very much involved in parish life since moving here with her husband in 2002, serving two terms as a member of our Parish Pastoral Council and, in more recent times, as Sacristan in St Joesph’s, Urlaur. She died suddenly and unexpectedly in her own home on Tuesday last, February 28th, R.I.P.
Her son, Fr Padraig, was Principal Celebrant at the Mass and he asked me to preach. I decided to share a few thoughts by way of a letter to Nuala.
You were always a great one for cards – making your own personalised cards for birthdays, Christmas and special occasions. I’ve received them over the years but don’t think I’ve ever written back. Today I feel the need to write to you. I’m writing to you but reading it for others because I hope the words might, as words can, bring hope to what has been a very difficult few days for so many people, not least Mick, your sons Seán and Padraig, your daughters Paula, Michelle and Fionnuala, grandchildren Georgina, Dominic, Ciara, Samuel and Aeryn, your brothers and sisters and indeed for all gathered here today.
I just read a Gospel Passage that you’d have heard many times. It’s the one about Jesus visiting the home of Martha and Mary following the death of their brother Lazarus. A few days earlier the sisters had sent word to him telling him “the man you love is ill.” By the time Jesus arrived Lazarus had died and was buried. The family was devastated, even to the point of annoyance: “If you had been here my brother would not have died”. People watched to see how Jesus would react. His reaction paved the way for our own. “He wept.” Later declaring himself “the Resurrection and the Life” but first he wept.
A week ago Nuala, I’d have had a job to convince you that I’d weep over you. If I had said to you when we said goodbye after Mass on Saturday last; “Nuala I’ll be crying over you within the week”, would you have believed me? Yet, that’s the truth of it Nuala. When I knelt to pray for you on Tuesday night, tears flowed and they have made their presence felt since. Now I’m not ashamed of that because the man we’re all trying to follow wept too at the death of a friend and, quite likely for the heartbreak his people were feeling. There’s something healing in knowing that life matters and that death brings tears. Jesus wept! It leads to the question why?
The answer lies in knowing the value of friendship and loyalty. It is found too in a deep awareness that something very final has taken place and that things done by the one who has died, will now be left undone or, at best, attended to in a different way. On that front, Nuala, I have much to lament today. Your care of this church, not in big brush strokes or heavy lifting, but in the attentiveness to the little bits that we could so easily miss. The colours of the Church’s Seasons, Green, Red, Purple and White made their appearance and always on cue. Some little bit that got broken or needed to be made “I’ll ask Mick to take a look at it”, the text asking if I wanted you to turn on heat or a light, the rotas for our readers and Ministers of Holy Communion and so much more … Your ideas around the Lenten and Easter Garden last year and the way you involved the little ones in bringing life to what looked like barren soil. It all mattered Nuala.
But it’s not for what you did in terms of work we miss you. It’s the woman behind the work, the heart of that woman that was ultimately kind. Somebody once said that the world is made up of givers and takers and, it’s worth naming it today, you were primarily among the givers. You touched many lives, shaped the very lives of the men and women here today who, despite their age remain at heart, your children. You loved their children and never forgot a significant moment in their lives. You touched the heart of Mick too well over forty years ago and said yes to him and he to you in that sign – that Sacrament – that is marriage. You were good to and for each other, complemented each other. As Forrest Gump said in the famous movie, describing Jennie, the woman he always loved, “Jennie and me were like peas and carrots”. Very different in shape and colour but always, always on the same plate, the same page and that page was one of sharing a journey, often in the Volvo, seldom in the air but always in the heart and from the Soul. You can see why you’re missed.
In the Community Centre, for many years, you were its voice and face, the point of contact and ever efficient. People – men and women, boys and girls, were the stuff of your day and interaction was important. Respectful, honest, committed and, in the interests of honesty and transparency, stubborn on occasions were the building blocks and the cement that made you the person we came to know, trust, respect and love.
“Tears” it has been said “are the price we pay for love”. It’s a price worth paying. That’s part of the reason Jesus wept Nuala, because he loved and loves all of us. I’m convinced He was there for you and with you to welcome and reassure you. He was in Mick who, shocked and all as he was, began to build the blocks and shape the moment of your death by making the calls he needed to make, calling the priest, the Gardai and gathering your family and your neighbours so that we can be here today to pray around and for you.
“Let my prayer rise before you like incense” is a consoling image and in our Funeral Mass, your son has allowed that happen. With the thurible and its charcoal and incense he has enveloped the Altar and all of us in a haze of prayer and a scent that lingers to remind us, prayer always rises, can be a slow process but, given time, it brings the answers we seek. You know where I’m going with this Nuala. As I draw these lines to a close I want to remind you and all here that we spoke last Saturday night about this very thurible. The build-up of burnt charcoal had taken something of a toll. You noticed it at Nora Conroy’s Funeral but didn’t say anything to me. You did a bit of research about the best way to clean a thurible, searching on line and talking to some of your colleagues in the Community Centre. When you felt you had an idea where to go with this, you involved me and told me you were taking it home. I had no worries about that. Ironically you said to me that you hoped there’d be no funeral before you got the job done. How little did we know and surely there’s a message in here for us all today – how little we know about the future and the absolute need, with God’s help and in His name, to do our best with each and every day. Many know it now but I want to say it again, Nuala died while she was cleaning this thurible. The little dish was held between thumb and index finger and I believe that little dish has a message for us today, because it says to me that Nuala died doing a good thing, that she died peacefully though unexpectedly and that the prayer of her final act of service was among the most blessed she ever prayed. That prayer is interwoven with ours today and will so remain forever in the rising incense blessed and shared in this church.
I’d never fit all that on a card Nuala, not even one of your specially commissioned cards but I believe these words are important. It seems appropriate to write to you since the Post Office was your point of contact with so many people, letters stamped and sent and words shared. The final word on behalf of all of us, having prayed for your Eternal Rest, has to be “Thanks”.
God Bless you Nuala. May Jesus who wept console your family and all, myself included, who numbered you among their friends.
PS You made a real difference. I’m glad we met.