The time was short for Peter McKenna in his last illness. His life was to be measured not in years or decades but in weeks and days. The diagnosis was swift but the prognosis was not good. Surgery would have removed his leg but would not have saved his life. The doctors fell back on their medical oath, do no harm. The time that remained was to make him comfortable. Far from being a sad time, it was as if the sun had come out after the rain. There was much joy and happiness around that bedside, jokes were cracked (sometimes black ones), funny stories and funny time recounted in family life, a host of visitors and family visited which comforted Peter and did him much good. It was a time of God’s healing balm for the future, to soothe the pain of what was to come, to heal the broken hearts and cast down spirits.
Peter’s life came to an end over a short space of time. He was fortified by the sacraments which I had given him and the holy Eucharist – he was immensely comforted by these things, knowing fully the danger that he had come to. His eyes and his gaze was not looking back but looking forward to the end of his life and the oceans of time and the joy of heaven which lay ahead.
Today the words of the Gospel come to us as great comfort. The Lord tells his apostles that he is not leaving them behind, he is not going to forget them. They will be with him too. They will have a share in the joy of the Father’s home. Those thoughts fill our minds as the words are addressed to us: he will not forget us, he will not leave us behind. His desire is that all, all share in the fathers happiness of the redeemed world of his son. He loves us, he knows the number of the hairs on our head, he loves us and does not want anyone to be lost. No one is to be left behind and no one is to be forgotten. These words do us much good as we listen to them, the lift us from our present sadness and allow us to look into the horizon.
Many people here knew Peter much better than I did. At the time I met him, even despite being unwell, he was full of good humour and in good spirits. That appears to be the way that he always was.
Peter was aged 76 years when he died. He almost never made it at all, he was 2 Ibs and 3oz and slept, he said, for the first few weeks in a drawer – it could have been a small drawer given his size. He stayed in his aunt Hannah’s house with his mum and dad, the family later stayed in the Lightburn road. He had a number of brothers and sisters – James John Katherine Patricia and Edward. His mother was Elizabeth and Peter – his father a miner and his mother a housewife who liked the Bingo). He attended St Bride’s school and developed a love for music that was stay with him all his life. Singing and playing the guitar, entertained others especially the family. In his early days he belonged to a number of bands, but most notably to the Savoy Stompers – needleas to say, with a name like that, they never quite made it. The family and especially his wife loved to hear him sing.
He met his future wife Anne at a local dance in Cambuslang and offered to give her a run home, thinking that he had a car she agreed, only to find that when he said run home, he literally meant a run home, without the car, on foot. They were to be married at St Columbkilles’s in 1961 on 12th August. They lived in a number of places until they were able to make their way back to Halfway and eventually to Newton, they had 4 children Karen Pauline Stephen and Anne. Anne had a number of miscarriages along the way that remained a sadness for them both. In time also he was to live to see 12 grandchildren born and 7 great grandchildren. He loved the company of children, he liked to tease them and could tell them great whopping lies without blushing. He was clever and smart - but as is the way of these things never got the chance to develop these talents, he had beautiful handwriting and read assiduously and write poems and songs. He delighted in others getting ahead in education. He loved to talk, debate, sing and laugh. In latter times he was a taxi driver, a job he liked very much for he could talk and regale people with jokes and funny stories – they couldn’t get away from him they were locked into the car nailed to the seat.
He was a great family man and liked the company of family members all his life. He had a long and happy marriage to Anne – reaching to 55 years. He was delighted to see new family born and it was always a great blessing. He had a very fruitful life and a whole host of interests, embracing new technology and new things with great relish. He had a great appetite for life.
Today we are thinking of the sadness of life when it ends, but should we not also be thinking today of the joy of life. The joy that life can bring to the person who receives it and to the many people who have come in contact. The gift of life from God brings innumerable possibilities, innumerable graces, innumerable meetings, innumerable contacts, innumerable friendships, innumerable situations to do good. It is a rich blessing poured into our hands that flows over, spills over, cannot quite be held.
Think Peter got this about life, it was a gift, a grace from on high, given to him.
In the end we have to give it back to the one who has given it to us. He is interested what we have done with it. And like any father he wants us to multiply the gifts given rather than hide them away. As he comes to him at the end of this life, Peter has much to show for his time here on earth, he does not return to him empty handed.
It was a life filled with smiles, laughter, jokes and songs. Is that not a great thing to behold.