Woke up this morning to an email from my brother with the sad news that our cousin, Janet, had died. Janet is the oldest daughter of the Irish branch of our family. Originally there were two brothers, and almost a hundred years ago, one of those brothers immigrated to Canada and began the branch our family here, while the other brother stayed in Northern Ireland and raised a family there. The Canadian brother was my grandfather, and the Irish brother was my great Uncle.
Both have long since passed away, but the two branches of the family have managed to stay in relatively close contact over the years, first with telegrams and letters, and later with email and Facebook. My brother has been over to Ireland a number of times in the last 20 years and is sort of the “lynch-pin” connection who keeps up the best contact. He knows all of the grandchildren and nieces and nephews by name, and I’m sure I will need to sit down with him before I ever head over there for a visit again and make sure I know who’s who. As a side note, there is even a cousin with the exact same name as me over there, and if you ever happen to google me, (Who hasn’t googled themselves, right?, although I don’t get googled as much as I used to, such is life) you’ll see pictures of a man handing out giant novelty cheques to Ulster farmers with cows in the background. That’s my cousin, just to be clear. That’s not me.
Janet was the oldest of my great uncle’s grandchildren, and probably the one I knew the least. She was just in her early 50’s, which doesn’t seem all that old. But then, when you’re almost 40, even 80 doesn’t seem that far away either. She left home to go to University in Scotland, and stayed over there. Her parents encouraged their children to get educated outside of Northern Ireland as much as possible, if only to have new experiences and to get away from the oppressive ubiquitous hatred of “The Troubles”, even if it was only for a few years. She became an actuary and worked in a bank in Edinburgh. She and her husband Tom lived about 45 minutes outside of Edinburgh and she took the train into work every day.
In fact, just last week I was out with friends and met someone who was about to head over to Edinburgh for a PhD program. I even mentioned to her that I had a cousin who lived nearby and was going to give her Janet’s contact information because it’s nice to meet new people.
I first met Janet in 1996 when my brother and I went to Ireland, England and Scotland for the first time. We visited with our family in Northern Ireland first and was given Janet’s contact info in Edinburgh in case we had time later. Well, as it turned out, we did have a couple of nights in Edinburgh and one night instead of taking her usual train home, she waited for us after work and we went out to a restaurant for supper. I still think of that night and the kindness of this quiet thoughtful woman taking an evening off to meet with a couple of goofy Canadian cousins, technically strangers to her. I found out later that she was painfully shy and almost didn’t meet up with us, so I that makes the night even more special in my mind. I got to meet her again the following year at a family wedding, and we just picked up where we left off. That was the last time I actually saw her, but I kept up with her through family news.
Being so shy and private, we learned that she was suffering a bout of breast cancer a few years ago, but since we didn’t really hear any updates, we assumed all was well. Well, I suppose all wasn’t well, and the cancer came back. Typical Janet, she kept it all very “hush hush” with only her husband, Mom and one of her sisters really knowing the extent and severity of her illness. Amazingly, she was only in hospital for one day, so there’s that, at least. She got to spend most of her final days at home, with some of her family, which I guess if you have the choice that’s the way you want to be.
For some reason, whenever I think of Janet and Tom, I think of the Iona Community in Scotland. Maybe it’s because the last couple of times when my brother has visited, he spent some time there either before or after visiting with Janet and Tom, or maybe it’s because when I think of Janet at all, I think of her quiet strength which in no small part comes out of a deep, abiding and steadfast faith in God, and how this strength has kept her going through her illness and now I pray that same faith will transfer to those who loved her, especially Tom, and sustain them through this sad time of mourning. I know it’s not cool to talk about God, and it’s easy to make fun of faith or disprove it with science or whatnot, but sometimes you need something deeper than science and logic to speak to your soul. Even Einstein said that God does not play dice, and he was way smarter than any of us. I welcome your emails.
So I’ve picked out a hymn from the Iona Community to end off this Lenten blog post. I’m PRETTY SURE it is to the tune of “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” but when I went to Youtube to try to find an instrumental version of that hymn, there are like a dozen different version listed, NONE of which sound like the one I know, so maybe I’m wrong.
So anyway, I’m posting the sheet music for the hymn and those in the fanbase who are musically bent can plunk out the melody and I’m sure you will recognize it.
“In all our loneliness and doubt, through what we cannot realize, address us from your empty tomb and tell us that life never dies.”