The late Margaret McKenna (nee Caldwell)
If I may take this opportunity to thank my Longford Association-Dublin colleagues and friends and the members of the Longford Association in London for their invaluable support with their kind messages and attendance at the funeral of our sister, Margaret McKenna, Knockloughlin, Longford whose sad and unexpected death occurred in January.
We, as her family, were well aware of Margaret’s rich attributes, but through the eyes of her and her husband Sean’s wonderful array of friends, those facets of her character were corroborated over and over again on the occasion of her reposing and funeral, adding vivid colour to what we already knew.
Margaret was a fun loving character who retained her often giddy sense of humour all through her life, even as her circumstances changed and set her challenges she just couldn’t have foreseen. I know she wouldn’t wish me to canonise her, but if goodness could be measured it would be off the scale in her case: Margaret exuded love – love of family, love of people and love of life; and she possessed a big hearted generosity and a capacity for genuine warmth and friendliness. Her humanity was always plain to be seen and, for her, any form of cynicism was another country.
Margaret was diagnosed with MS 26 years ago, a devastating diagnosis for anyone, but for someone who loved to dance it was all the more disheartening. As her illness progressed over the years with the attendant loss of physical capacity, her ability to come to terms with the unfamiliar world she was facing was truly impressive. But with the help of her devoted and loyal husband, Sean, of 53 years, she managed heroically.
I wouldn’t like to suggest it was easy – there had to be difficult times as she and Sean, both, coped with a kind of new normal, so to speak. I suppose the biggest change in Margaret’s circumstances came 11 years ago when she had to use a wheelchair to get around, but she and Sean, as her main carer, ultimately accommodated even this with the important practical help of their son, Michael.
Throughout it all, Margaret’s sterling qualities remained intact. She had a remarkable dignity and a great sense of herself. She retained a continuing interest in her appearance and had a lovely sense of style. She loved her hair do’s and her make up , including her favourite face creams which left her skin ‘forever young’.
To visit her and Sean and their little dog, Tootsie, in their home was therapeutic when it could have been otherwise: it was a happy and humorous space with a palpable sense of contentment with their lives. What you got from Margaret in that setting and on the telephone was gratitude for every day; and Sean was never without a smile. It’s little wonder they had so many wonderful friends of long standing, including those they made over their 25 year membership of the MS society in Longford, a wonderfully supportive organisation.
Everyone who visited their home in a professional capacity became fast friends and weren’t just there to provide a service which they always did in exemplary fashion. They included Helen and Joan, her longest serving carers at 10 years, and all the wonderful carers from Irish Home Care and Home Instead (too numerous to mention), who were co-ordinated by Pauline.
Mary Mulligan helped her in so many ways, including doing regular physio, and she completely trusted Josephine and Ursula with her hair and Marie with her make up: Margaret just couldn’t hide her fastidiousness! Dr Mel Gorman was her good and caring doctor since before her illness, and was always ready to attend her at home.
Margaret was blessed with a real faith which sustained her through all her travails; she looked forward to Mass from St Mel’s cathedral on her PC and she loved the first Fridays when her parish priest would visit her at home. Her faith and prayerfulness were built on an early example in the home, well remembered here: last year Margaret answered a series of questions for a young neighbouring student, Casey Rowley, for her school project. To Casey’s enquiry about changes she’d noticed in religion in Ireland, she spoke (non judgmentally) about the fact that a lot of people had stopped going to Mass now; and relating her early childhood experiences, she said “the rosary was said in our house every night and if you wanted to go out beforehand, you had to say a decade of the rosary to be let out. Mammy, God bless her, had trimmings longer than the rosary, praying for this and that and the other, The Congo, the holy souls. She was a great woman to pray.”
Her funeral Mass in Ennybegs was celebrated by Fr Vincent Connaughton, a long standing friend of Margaret and Sean, who gave a wonderful homily which included nice personal insights into Margaret and her life; concelebrating were Fr Casey PP, Killoe, Fr Willie Courtney, our cousin; Fr James Mc Kiernan ADM, Longford and Fr Peter Burke. Adding greatly to the celebration of her life was the beautiful music of Mel and Helena Crowe.
Margaret’s parting has left a huge void in all our lives: her life partner of 53 years and best friend, Sean; Michael, their son; daughter-in-law, Angela; grandchildren, Conor and Ciara and great grandson, Tommy. Her death so soon after our brother Joe’s in October, has added greatly to our sorrow, eased at important moments, thankfully, by wonderful memories of them both.
Ar dheis De go raibh a h-anamacha dilis.