The last period of John’s life was clouded by illness. Along with the physical frailty of his years also came feebleness in his memory and then confusion in his actions. In those last months of his life he was cared for at the Home in East Kilbride, made comfortable and looked after, provided for in a dignified way right to the end. It is a comfort for Jean and all who were close to him and knew him that he was looked after, watched over and cared for in this way.
Advancing age reminds us of the frailty of human life. In our younger years we think we will never be ill and never think of growing old. But it is sure to come, the time when the shadows lengthen. John before going into the home and before his time in hospital was aware that the hour was coming, but with customary good spirit tried to put that day off, tried to keep to his normal routine, his daily tasks, the things he would normally have done. But it was clear he couldn’t put it off, the illness was relentless and he was unable to turn back the waves.
At Mass today we are reminded of the presence of God in our lives, at the end of our lives but also throughout our lives. That presence is a benevolent presence, a loving presence, a re-assuring presence, a presence that carries us when it seems we cannot carry ourselves. He wishes no harm to come to us, he wishes only our good, he wishes only our happiness. This was a faith that John carried with him throughout his life that gave him consolation, strength and guidance.. Faith wasn’t a badge to be worn, a sign of identity, but a living breathing reality. And in the valley of darkness of that last illness when he could not put a step in front of another, when his mind was confused that faith was burning brightly. God was carrying him, bearing him, shouldering his burdens when he could no longer do so himself.
In life John was blessed with good hands and a good mind. He was able to work with metal and wood, these were the trades that he worked in. He seemed able to create things out of nothing and always took great pride in his work. Those things had left him as he grew older. But in the deep recesses of his mind I am sure those skills never left him, once given they are not taken away – you may not be able to do them physically, nor remember how you did them, but deep in the mind they are still there. I am sure as he pondered on his own ability to make things it must have given him great insight and great appreciation into the things that God has created and the power to create things that he has placed into our hands. There must have been a sense of wonder at what God created and what he in turned had also been able to create.
Over the last few days there are a number of things that have surprised me, he was a very private man and many things he kept under that hat that he always wore and seemed at times glued to his head. I didn’t know his real name was Gerald, or at least that was what he was known to the family. I didn’t know that he was born in Canada. I didn’t know that he worked in industry. It says much about him that he was a very private person, as is Jean herself.
He was one of 5 children. It says much about his abilities that he was able to build not just one home but 2 homes, in Blantyre and Cambuslang. He was married to Jean for many years and it was here they settled down in the very street that Jean was brought up. After working in industry he spent a number of years as a technician at St Andrew’s High in EK, a job that he liked very much. Jean worked for a long number of years in the electricity board. Both Jean and him lived for a long time here in Cambuslang but moved to East Kilbride and for 20 years planned their return to Cambuslang but could never quite agree on where they would like to stay, although much discussion was had about it over the years, even to the point of buying a house which they quickly re-sold. Every day in retirement part of their routine was to come down from EK and then to go onto the shops everyday – they were the original bargain hunters. They were associated with the parish over the years and very involved, they even counted the money each Sunday which would take them ages, I often heard them disagree over totals, counts, what was in bags etc. They came into the house talking to each other I don’t think they always left the house on good terms. They also used to tell me of the discussions they had with shops, with handymen, with builders, with insurance people, with people selling cars and all I was glad it was not me. There always seemed to be something that went wrong, eventually it always ended by them sending the thing back or getting their monies back again. In their life they also enjoyed the sports of bowls and were dedicated members of the local club.
For the last few years both of their health has been declining and both needed the help and care of the homes that they have stayed in more recently.
John was a strong and skilled man. All through his life he worked hard and was very industrious and conscientious in any thing he set out to do. Both and he and jean lived a very simple life for each other. On the day of their marriage they promised to love each other, it was a promise they kept right to the end and both received a rich and abundant blessing along the way.
John has reached the end of the road, but its not a road that leads nowhere at the end of this road is the loving God who has been walking with us and who alone can take us further those few steps beyond death to a new life and where we are reborn to eternal life. The very things we are reminded about in these Easter days.