On Saturday I went to visit Mother Mary Pat at Strathcarron Hospice. Immediately when you walk through the doors you know this is a happy place. That might seem strange, for a place to be full of death but also to be happy. But sometimes hospices get it right. The first thing you notice is how friendly the staff are. Nurses, auxiliaries, clerical staff all look up and say Good morning or Hello, break off their conversations to smile and acknowledge your presence. Compare that to our local hospital where nobody answers the ward bell for ages and when they do let you in they scurry off before you can ask a question.
Mother Mary Pat is a local darling. She and her husband Jay led an exciting and full life before settling in Falkirk. I think she was one of the first women ordained, previously being a Deaconess and then Deacon. Jay was also a priest and died a number of years ago. They were assistants at Grangemouth and Bo’ness for many years and loved by all. Mother Mary Pat has been ill for some time and it has been my joy and delight to visit and take communion to her. She in turn gives me wise counsel and advice. It was only a few weeks ago that we were planning a Lent Group made up of questions people want to ask but are afraid to (not unlike Kelvin’s God Factor). We’ll save it for next year now.
A couple of weeks ago I had a phone call to say that Mother Mary Pat was in hospital and approaching death. I rushed up with anointing oil and said prayers as she lay unconscious. Her daughter and son were by her side, having travelled up from England. As she was in her nineties we had discussed death before and she was ready to go. Of course it was sad for the family, it always is, but there was also a sense of a life-well-lived. Phone calls were made, prayers were asked for, plans put in place, and we waited for news. The following morning I hadn’t heard anything so I phoned the hospital to be told that Mother Mary Pat was eating porridge. “You must have the wrong person,” I said. “She was close to death yesterday.” But prayer works like that sometimes. Sometimes the time is not right.
So over the past couple of weeks Mary Pat’s family have gathered around her to say goodbye. They’ve come from far and near: children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and friends. Gradually she has improved a little, still unable to walk and very weak and tired, but day by day she has brightened a little. “Why am I still here, Ruth?” she’d ask. “I’m ready to go but there must be something I’m meant to do first. What can it be?” And we have prayed.
Last week she was was moved to the hospice and with some lovely food and home-baking she improved even more. Her hair was done and really she looked the best I’ve seen her for a long while. Too good for the hospice, in fact, and now the family are talking about taking her south so it may have been our last visit. “Perhaps I’ve to help someone here,” she mused. “Perhaps that’s why God sent me here.” Always looking to care for another.
So this Lent I’ve begun by thinking about trust. About trust in God and that our time is not always God’s time. I’ve had time to reflect on families and how important they are and how we must make time, even when we’re so busy, to spend time with those we love. Having time to listen to stories is always a bonus. So while some give up things in Lent, and others take things on, sometimes it is best just to do nothing, to take time while we have it, and to just be.
And say a prayer for Mary Pat for the rest of her journey.