Funeral Homily for the late
Emma Mhic Mhathuna
RIP – (Fr. Paddy Moran C.S.Sp)
St. Mary’s Pro Cathedral, Dublin
Wednesday October 10th
“My connection with Emma is though my family. My sister in law Elaine is Emma’s aunt. We would have met at different family occasions. In recent times we met in Saint Vincent’s Hospital here in Dublin. When I called in to see Emma I was very struck by two things. Firstly her sense of calm and secondly her ferocious love for her children. Natasha, her daughter was in the room. I asked how she was doing. Her reply was very striking. Her illness, she said, she did not see as part of God’s plan, but rather as the result of human error. She said the organizations who made errors had apologized and that those letters of apology meant a huge amount to her. She didn’t want those letters for herself but for her children.
Regarding the apologies she spoke with no malice, anger or bitterness. Just a mother thinking first and foremost of her children. We talked about her illness, which she spoke of in a very calm manner. I told Emma that I thought she extraordinarily brave. I admit that what I said next I didn’t phrase so well. I said if I was very ill I would like to just go to quiet place and end my days there. She perked up and looked at me and said “You mean you would just give up”. She looked at me like I had introduced some foul concept into the conversation, because giving up were not words in her vocabulary. On the back foot, I said that wasn’t what I meant. What I meant was I hoped that my faith would enable me to live my illness and my death. Emma looked at me and she gave me the look, the Emma look that says “I hear what you are saying but I am not sure you are right, in fact I’m fairly sure you’re wrong but we won’t fall out over it”. We talked then of her great joy when she and her family met Pope Francis. We said a prayer together and then I said a blessing. I asked for her blessing. She took my hand and gave me a blessing. Indeed, I was richly blessed.
Last night, it was a great privilege to have had the opportunity to meet so many of Emma’s family and friends. It was great that they could fill in the spaces about the totality of Emma’s life. Over and over again it was mentioned that Emma was a woman of faith. Her faith led her to join the Legion of Mary. Her faith led her on pilgrimages to Knock and Lourdes. Her faith led her to study Theology in Maynooth. Her faith sustained her in her life’s journey. When we look at our readings for today they are rich food for the journey of life. The eternal wisdom of the Book of Ecclesiastes reminding us that there is indeed a time for everything and that in some mysterious and extraordinary way we are invited to trust in the plan of a loving God. We look to the extraordinary words of Saint Paul in the second reading, “As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing”. No words could better describe what Emma has lived. One image of faith that really struck me was a story of Emma returning from pilgrimage in Lourdes. She brought with her a large container of Holy Water, which she wanted to give to the parish priest. The priest wasn’t in so she left the Holy water with a note at his door. I love the image of Emma giving without asking anything in return, thinking of others and allowing blessing to flow freely, neither to be controlled nor regulated. She would never know those who would be blessed by the Holy water. But indeed you can be assured that they were blessed.
When we come to today’s Gospel we are drawn to the words of consolation of Jesus for his followers. We have a place to go to when our earthly pilgrimage is done. The Jesus of the Gospels is a restless wanderer on the earth. He calls people into a life together, a life to be lived for other. He was a ferocious thorn in the side of religious and political leaders. He was a tireless advocate for the poor and marginalized. He fought for a world where all people would be treated with dignity and respect. This was His Way, His Truth, His Life and he shares it with us that we may have life and life to the full. It is said that being a Christian is neither about optimism or pessimism. Optimism would be seeing the Resurrection without the Cross. Pessimism would be seeing the Cross without the Resurrection. To be a Christian is to be a person of hope. Hope knows the pain of the Cross but that suffering is rooted firmly in the reality and promise of the Resurrection. This is what we believe. Human suffering is a painful and dreadful reality, Emma suffered, and she endured in her suffering with great dignity and enormous courage. She held onto life for as long as she could. When the time of fighting ended, she was able to let go and she let God take her in His arms. She is at peace, a peace that is eternal. She is home.
Hand in hand with her faith is that Emma was a person who loved fun, was herself very funny and sought humour even in the most unlikely of places. She sent these real texts to her friends. During her treatment she wrote “I had radiation today but am free tomorrow. Let’s make plans”. From her hospital bed she wrote to her friend, “I have free reflexology, free aromatherapy massage, a free twin room and free food. Do you want to come up and stay?” The humour was real and so was her love for people. To a friend whose sister was diagnosed with cancer she simply said, “I’m here for you”. In her own pain, she reached out to others with compassion, profound caring and enormous love. And indeed to all who knew Emma, they were indeed all blessed.
There has been much in the public domain about the life of Emma. What is not known so much is that she was writing a children’s book. I am delighted to be able to share with you the opening two Chapters of her unfinished story. These are Emma’s words.
School bell goes. Summer’s finally here. We have a super summer planned. Fishing, football, swimming, sheep chasing, exploring and winding the locals up awaits. Out the door, school bags on the shoulder, jumpers round the waist, down Muireach hill. A car pulls up. Americans looking for directions. That happens a lot down here. We send them the wrong way for the craic. Nothing beats a bit of mischief. Straight home, eat mam’s sandwiches, throw uniform in the back of the wardrobe. Summer clothes on, biscuits into the pockets, back out the door head down the pier. No one else down here yet, left the brother at home he has to clean the dishes. Mam not happy with him. He used her good lipstick on his art project. The beach is full of tourists. I am asked to take a picture of a German couple. I take a picture they give me a euro to buy myself an ice cream. Skip back up the shop, get a loop the loop see my brother coming out. He’s still wearing Mams apron. We head up to Ballydavid Head. We have a base there. It’s an old lookout tower. The lads are meeting us there.
Chapter two (THE TOWER)
Mario takes off the apron. We use it as a flag to let the lads know were here. Mam will be going mad, but hey that’s boys for you. The Tower is old grey brick it faces the other side of the bay. No windows. 15ft tall 8ft wide. We can see all around horse-shoe bay. That’s not the real name of course, we made it up. Line of white horses going by on the Ballyferriter side. Clip clop, Clip clop that’s all we will here for the next three months. The fishing boats are out. Most of the Dads are fishermen here. It’s our bread and butter to survival. Mario manages to take a biscuit from my pocket. I give him a dead arm. He grabs the back of my knees and gets me to the ground. Damn, his rugby skills paying off, he takes another biscuit then runs off. I see the lads. Thomas, Aaron, Aodhna, Pearce, Michael, Donal, Aidan, Josh. Yes, here we go. “Well Seamus, anything stirring across the Bay” shouts Aaron. No, just the usual lads, did you bring the tent”. First night of school holidays we always camp on Bally David Head. Everyone pours outs what’s in their bags. Rope, crisps, binoculars, bars, plasters…..Hang on lads who the heck brought plasters. “Sorry lads” says Donal “It’s my Mam, she made me in case any of us get hurt”. Right, we understand. Mammy’s in Ireland think of everything. I forgot my school lunch one day and my Mam made the post man bring it down to me. They can be so embarrassing at times. So over protective, then flying off the handle the next”.
And so ends Chapter two. I suppose it is up to us to write the next Chapter.
To make sure that Emma is kept alive in our memories. To Emma, thanks for being you and thanks for being such a powerful force of nature and a wonderful force for good. Thank you for touching the hearts of so many people when they heard you telling your story. Thank you for making us realise our own capacity for compassion and empathy. Thank you for your courage and your strength. Thank you for showing us the tenderness and beauty of a mothers love. Thank you for showing us the beauty of wild places. Thank you for showing us that life, in all its fragility and vulnerability, is still a most wonderful gift and we should live it the best we can. Thanks you for promoting the beauty of Kerry. Thank you for showing us that faith matters, that faith is real and is a good thing and can sustain us even in the most challenging of times. Thank you for the hope you expressed that people are good and have a capacity to learn from mistakes and that what happened to you should not happen to any other woman in our land. Thank you for the encouragement you give to people who are suffering now, in hospitals, in hospices, in their homes. May they find in your strength courage in their suffering. Thank you for showing us that in life there is far more cause for celebration than consternation. Thank you for the gift of your children. They are wonderful and you will always live through them. Thank you Emma. You were and will always be a blessing for us all. ENDS