It’s been a strange old week, a mixture of our first Easter in a new setting, a return to Castlewellan to visit Craigmore Youth Club’s Easter Camp, and the death of my other grandmother. Another fantastic lady! And again, I was invited to share a few words at her funeral. The text is below:
I’ve been pondering for several days what to say about Hilda Elizabeth Harte, or ‘Nana’ as she always was to me and all her grandchildren – Jenny, Ian and Malcolm; Nigel and Kate; Stephen and Sheena. She was ‘Mum’ to Mavis and Gerald, Ken and Averil, Ray and Sue. She was ‘Hilda’ to her brother and sisters, Albert, Mabel, Grace and Marjorie, and to her late husband, Fred. To many, many people she was that ‘lovely lady’, Mrs. Harte. I hope you don’t mind if I refer to her as Nana.
We were looking yesterday evening at Nana’s photo albums, which document much of her 94 years. Hilda Elizabeth Cummings was born on 14 July 1914 and lived near Washing Bay in Co. Tyrone. She saw virtually the whole of the 20th Century!
As a young woman she worked in Stevensons of Dungannon (otherwise known as Moygashel), where Major Stevenson on one occasion described her as the ‘clever little lady’! But she was swept off her feet and away from Tyrone when one of the junior ministers, who used to cycle past the Cummings homestead on their way to Stuartstown Methodist Church, courted her and married her on 27 October 1936. Fred and Hilda were a team, often visiting members of their churches together, where Nana’s warm style was very much appreciated. She played the organ, taught Sunday School and was generally wonderful! I received a note from a family who were genuinely thankful for Nana and Papa in their retirement as babysitters, and another from a local preacher who appreciated Nana’s encouragement as she moved towards becoming a minister. One of my stronger memories is of Nana and Papa holding hands while going for a walk – I remember how encouraging it was to think that a couple could still be in love after almost sixty years of marriage, and resolved to never be embarrassed about holding my wife’s hand in public.
They had moved to Margaretholme sheltered accommodation in Sandymount for a short period but it was clear after Papa’s death that Nana would need more personal attention. She moved back to Dun Laoghaire where Mavis and Gerald could keep an eye on her, but after four years it was fully apparent that Alzheimer’s Disease had taken its hold and she would need full-time nursing care. The Royal Hospital, Donnybrook, became her new home, where she very happily settled and stayed until her death on Wednesday morning. The care and attention she received there was truly fantastic, hence the family’s desire that you support the Hospital in Nana’s memory.
The scourge of Alzheimer’s is that it robs us of the character of the person we love, yet the body remains. At times over the last eight years we have seen glimpses of Nana’s former nature shine through – beautiful smiles and delight in playing the piano, a love of children and of singing, and her delight in God her heavenly Father.
Much was expected of a minister’s wife and family in the 40s and 50s, perhaps more than was fair. Nana had duties to fulfil and a role to play, but at the core of her being was the love of God. She found great joy in sitting down at a piano, any piano, and singing hymns and songs of worship to Jesus. Nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. Today we can take comfort from knowing that Nana and Papa are now reunited in that place that Jesus had prepared for them, praising God together forever.
One translation of 1 Cor 13:12-13 reads: Now we see things imperfectly as in a poor mirror, but then we shall see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God knows me now. There are three things that will endure – faith, hope and love – and the greatest of these is love.
There is no doubt that in her last years Nana saw things imperfectly, as in a poor mirror – but today she sees everything with perfect clarity, the partial is made complete, and the three things that endure – faith, hope and love – have come to fulfilment.
Her faith was in Jesus Christ, the God who created us, became one of us and died to save us from ourselves, to bring life in its fullness. Her hope was an Easter Saturday hope – that the same God who raised Jesus from the dead would also raise her. Her love was in the One who first loved her, God who created us to be in loving relationship with him.
Yesterday some of us were talking about how different personality types respond to various situations. I often find it easier to talk about Jesus in this setting than with a smaller group of friends or family. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that there is life after death, and the One who we have the choice to spend that life with is ready to comfort and counsel us in this life. That was Nana’s experience, and it is mine. Feel free to talk with me about it some time.
May the God of love, who promised to give us his peace, fill all our hearts and minds with love and peace this day and every day.