Homily of Father Pat Sheehan at the Funeral Mass of Valerie Armstrong

25 Jul 2016

The Church of the Nativity, Poleglass.

Rev Pat Sheehan, Parish Priest.

This last week has been hard and harrowing.  Our hearts have been heavy and our grief has been intense.  So I want to begin today on a positive note because when I think of Valerie Armstrong I think of cheerful and positive person; a person of faith and hope, and I am sure you do too.

We are proud to have known Valerie, who was, as her colleagues from Café Vaudeville described her, “a wonderful person, wife and mother.”   Valerie loved life, she loved her husband Seamus, and she was committed to their three wonderful children, Dylan, Lucy and Sophie.  This was natural for her because she came from a happy and loving family in Rochfortbridge Co Westmeath.  She grew up there with her parents Sonny and Christina and her brothers and sisters Johanna, Colette, Ann, Ben and Aidan.  She was creative with her hands, challenged herself with difficult jigsaws and loved doing arts and crafts with her children.  Indeed Valerie’s coffin is filled with beautiful pictures and painted angels made by Dylan, Lucy and Sophie to accompany her on her journey to God – painted in her favourite colour, purple.

We are inspired by Valerie’s thoughtfulness and generosity.  For years she has had an organ donor card so that, in the event of her death, others might have the opportunity of new life by transplanting her organs.  That has been done.  People’s lives, that were once burdened and limited by sickness, are now restored to health because of her concern for and commitment to the sick.

We are thankful to God for the blessing he bestowed on Valerie in this life and the blessing he brought to our lives through her.  We find comfort in Valerie’s own faith in God and we recall her, professing with us each Sunday, her belief in ‘the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come’.  Her Christian hope was rooted in her family home and a strong community in Rochfortbridge Co. Westmeath.

All of the above makes it hard to understand and come to terms with what has happened.  What happened last Tuesday evening has robbed us of a light and plunged us into darkness.  What happened has shocked us, angered us and left us broken-hearted.

Each of us, who knew Valerie, will remember how and where we heard the news of her death with shock and disbelief.  On a sunny summer evening she went out to walk her dog in a public place but did not return home alive.  As we heard the circumstances of her death, that shock turned to anger, because it was a terrible death that could have been avoided and should have been avoided.

I know her death was not intended but it happened, and it happened because others made bad choices.  Young people made choices to ride scramblers irresponsibly in public places.  Adults, maybe giving into pressure, made choices to buy scramblers for young people living in built up areas.  People need to think about what they are doing.  These choices can and have devastating consequences even though that was never intended.  These choices are destroying lives; both the lives of people like Valerie and the lives of young people responsible.

I sometimes wonder, ‘would it bring people to their senses if they had to face the heartbreak that has been caused?’ – not to shame them to help change them.  What if they had to listen to Seamus’ heartbreak; a young man who has lost a wonderful wife?  What if they had to they answer the questions of three young children who wonder why this terrible thing has happened to their mother?  What if they had to explain to Valerie’s broken-hearted parents that it was meant to be just fun?

I started on a positive note, so let me end on one also.  We thank God for the goodness of ordinary people; family, neighbours and friends who have supported Seamus and the children, Sonny and Christina and their children, through this last week;  Seamus’ own parents Seamus and Kate, his brother Damian and sisters Teresa and Cathy and the wide family circle; the many neighbours and friends who travelled from Rochfortbridge yesterday and today; neighbours here in Poleglass who set up an online fund (GoFundMe) to help with funeral expenses, which have become so costly.  (A special word of thanks to Chris Armour).   This is the Way that Jesus points to, this is the Way that leads to life and to eternal life.  Let us choose his Way; the Way the leads to life, and shun the way that leads to death.


Notes to Editors and Photographers / Media:

  • All media should make themselves known upon arrival and take directions from Ms. Shona Martin (Tel. 078111 44268).
  • In accordance with established diocesan protocols and out of respect for the bereaved family, no filming or photography is allowed within the Church of the Nativity.
  • It will be possible to access sound from within the sacristy of the Church and journalists are most welcome to join the congregation for the ceremony. Please liaise with Ms Shona Martin upon arrival to arrange this access.
  • The Funeral Mass took place today at 1.00pm.