Remember in November – Father John Kelly

03 Nov 2020

In November we remember our dead but also the many families, nursing homes, healthcare staff, religious houses and parish communities that grieve. 

In recent weeks the tragic deaths among families in Cork and Dublin, as well as living during a Worldwide Pandemic COVID-19, that has claimed the lives of so many people touches deeply into our hearts.

The necessary restrictions placed on us force us to transition from old ways to new ways to say goodbye and remember our dead.  God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8).  In the compassionate solidarity of faith communities supporting each other we discover a wisdom of Spirit that connects people in their grief.  As Pope Francis in Fratelli Tutti says “we have a great opportunity to express our innate sense of fraternity, to be Good Samaritans who bear the pain of other people’s troubles”.  The Pandemic has awakened in us a desire to do the right thing in new ways.  Communities of people gathered in candlelight vigils, neighbours lining the streets to wave farewell, the written and the spoken words that bring great consolation.  These encounters have transformed how we reach out to each other and how a compassionate heart can make a difference. 

The poet Seamus Heaney while recuperating in hospital some years ago after a stroke recalled the Gospel story of the paralysed man who was let down through the roof (Luke 5: 17-39).  What caught the poet’s attention was not that the man got up and went home… but the people who brought him on a stretcher for healing.  This reminded Heaney of the friends who were with him when he had the stroke, the people who visited him and the healthcare staff who cared for him.  Seamus calls these people ‘the human support-chain of people’. These people inspired Seamus Heaney to write the poem: Miracle.  


Not the one who takes up his bed and walks
But the ones who have known him all along
And carry him in —
Their shoulders numb, the ache and stoop deep locked
In their backs, the stretcher handles
Slippery with sweat. And no let-up
Until he’s strapped on tight, made tiltable
And raised to the tiled roof, then lowered for healing.
Be mindful of them as they stand and wait
For the burn of the paid-out ropes to cool,
Their slight light-headedness and incredulity
To pass, those ones who had known him all along.

The poem reflects the miracle of the kindness of those who brought the man to Jesus for healing.  The stretcher bearers – those who spared no effort.  The ‘ones who had known him all along’.   Every day throughout the pandemic in our nursing homes, our hospitals, our communities and in families we too have experienced the Miracle.  People caring for people in extraordinary ways. 

Since the death of my Mother, Rosaleen in January of this year I can relate to the kindness of people and also the intensity of grief and loss in a changed world that ebbs and flows from intense to gentle moments of remembrance.  As we remember this November we pray in thanksgiving for the gift of our loved ones who have died and we call to mind the words of the divine physician, Jesus Christ: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)

Father John Kelly
Chair, Healthcare Chaplaincy Board
Director of Pastoral Care, Tallaght University Hospital