Words for Pat

Nov 29th, 2006 | By | Category: Sermons

In an Ireland of large families, Pat was an only child and never married. When her mother died thirteen years ago, Katharine’s mother became next of kin, when Katharine’s mother died at the end of August, the mantle passed to Katharine. After five years in a nursing home with dementia, Pat died last Sunday. Tomorrow we say our farewell.

“Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evilâ€?.

Psalm 23:4

It would not have been possible to have known Pat for long without knowing of her great love for fresh air. Pat could never be anywhere very long without heading for the outdoors. In her younger days swimming was a passion, throughout her life Pat loved few things more than a walk. Even on Christmas Day, dinner was to be followed by a vigorous stride in the bracing afternoon air.

Walking is a deeply biblical activity and seems a very appropriate picture to use as we reflect on Pat’s life.

“I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truthâ€? it says in 3 John 1:3 and Pat was someone who was brought up to walk in the truth. Tom and Nora provided a loving and orderly home in which Pat grew up. Living in the bank manager’s house on the Ards peninsula didn’t provide many opportunities for education in the 1930s and Pat was sent off to boarding school in Belfast. Perhaps it was boarding school that inspired Pat’s habit of walking, for she ran away from her first school., catching the bus from Belfast to Newtownards and phoning Tom to ask that he would collect her. Tom and Nora allowed Pat to change to another school where she was happy. Reading through Nora’s pocket diary for 1939, where there are a few words for each day, there is a sense of a home life that is very ordered and filled with good things.

Pat’s walk from the days of her youth took her to train as a nurse in the Royal Victoria Hospital in 1940, a place of which she was always proud. Nursing at the time when Pat began was very much a fulfilment of the words of the prophet Micah, “to love mercy and to walk humblyâ€? with God. Drugs we take for granted were still a thing of the future, Pat would be 23 before Fleming, Chain and Florey won the Nobel Prize for medicine for developing antibiotics. Even innocuous illnesses could have tragic consequences and Pat would have been witness to many griefs as he walked the wards of the Royal, especially during the Belfast blitz of 1941.

The Second World War was to take Pat far from home, on a journey that was hazardous and where the things she encountered would have been heart breaking. Working in a field hospital tending to the wounded and the dying victims of the war against the Japanese army would have been a traumatic experience. Pat never spoke of the clinical work, but spoke of the camaraderie and the laughter. Even when Pat’s short term memory was very uncertain, she was still able to recall the long sea journey to India and the fun there had been on board. It would have been a worrying time for Tom and Nora back at home, even the sea travel was dangerous in waters where U-boats could strike without warning at troopships.

Pat’s nursing career after the war would have been a choice only those with the strongest vocation would have made. Pat went to work in a specialist burns unit at East Grinstead in Sussex, undergoing specialist training in the care of those who went for surgery, often after having suffered the most horrific injuries during their military service. It was a hard walk for anyone to have chosen.

Returning to the Province, Pat’s work included a time at the hospital on the Coast Road out of Larne before she became matron of Seymour House in Dunmurry. Pat’s walk around the home at night time, ensuring the welfare of the residents, was a protective walk. As one who had sheltered under the Lord’s wings during dangerous times, Pat now became the one providing protection to those entrusted to her care.

Retirement brought Pat to the Newcastle she so much loved, no matter the weather, no matter the season Pat would be out walking along the sea front. Taking to heart Paul’s advice in the letter to the Colossians that we should clothe ourselves in “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patienceâ€?, Pat’s daily walk was a devoted care for Nora.

Pat’s walk continued alone following Nora’s death, a strong, upright and independent walk through life. Pat loved her daily routine; meeting with friends; her Daily Telegraph; watching the changing seasons on Slieve Donard; the constant changing moods and colours of the sea and sky; the fresh air that she had always cherished.

The past six years have been a time when Pat, who had walked so far for others through all the years of her life, became dependent on the walk of the staff of Slieve Dhu Nursing Home where she received such devoted care. A series of illnesses along with a progressive loss of her memory have been a dark time for Pat, a time when many would have felt fear and frustration, yet Pat bore her illness with a gentle tranquillity, a tranquillity perhaps born of a sense that the one who had walked with her thus far would walk with her through the dark days. “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evilâ€?, says Psalm 23; Pat was blessed in being free from fear.

So we come to today, and Pat’s long walk is complete—except it’s not. “Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in deathâ€?, says the prophet Isaiah. Pat lived her life with a deep Christian faith and a trust that the God who had walked with her from her childhood days would continue at her side. Our hope today is that Pat still walks along the shore, but in a land where there is no darkness and where pain and suffering and tears are no more.

Pat received and showed goodness and mercy all the days of her life, may she now dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

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