Jackie Monaghan served the call of courage and love
Fr Kevin Hegarty
On last Monday morning, August 4, Mayo eased lazily into the bank holiday. The previous day the county teams had won All-Ireland Quarter Finals. A few more weeks of excitement and hope beckoned.
The holiday season was in full swing. The calendar was full of shows, festivals and outings. School and all that weary treadmill of routine seemed far away. The sun shone, all seemed as right as it could be with the world.
And then for the Monaghan and Geraghty families, in the picturesque seaside village of Duvillaun on the Mullet Peninsula, life changed in an instant and will never be the same again. Sudden death stole into the Monaghan household.
As the news of Jackie Monaghan’s death spread throughout the community it was as if, to echo a phrase of scripture, that darkness spread over the land.
It was difficult to comprehend the enormity of the news. A young woman of 33 years, mother of two children and expecting her third, had died in her sleep.
The road to Duvillaun, usually idyllic in the summer sun, became a rural highway to a kind of Irish Calvary.
For her husband Henry, their children Áine and Patrick and her extended family, one of the worst nightmares had become a grim reality.
“The horror, the horror, the horror” was the cry of the novelist Joseph Conrad as he plumbed the dark secret of suffering.
“My God”, my God, why have you forsaken me?” was the plaintive wail of Jesus as he lay dying on the cross.
I sense that Henry and his family have made it their own during the last few days.
So, on Thursday afternoon, we found ourselves in St Brendan’s Church, where just eight years ago, Jackie and Henry had married.
We were there, huddled together in our hundreds, and yet so helpless. We were trying to find some shred of meaning in the darkness to give thanks for Jackie who accomplished so much in her short life, and to stand shoulder to shoulder with her heartbroken family.
We were so conscious of our inadequacy to meet the magnitude of their pain. There are no words in any language that have the strength, depth or accuracy to tend to the bitter wound inflicted on them. All we could do was offer a touch of comfort, an assurance of love and promise of prayer and support.
Jackie, in her short life, to paraphrase some words of WB Yeats, something close to perfection wrought. She was beautiful, graceful, the soul of courtesy, all laced with a kind sense of humour. She was sensitive and compassionate. The day before her death, she took part in a 5km walk for the fund of Tommy O’Donnell whose story Áine Ryan told in this newspaper last week.
One young mother reaching out to another in her travail.
After her studies, locally and in NUI Maynooth and Galway, she qualified as a teacher. As a teacher in the local schools, she was a caring mentor for young people.
A lover of animals, she was especially fond of horses. She was a courageous horse woman and helped out in her family’s horse riding school.
Her greater love, naturally, was for Henry and her children. For them, she was in the words of the poet, Austin Clarke, “the Sunday in every week”.
She and Henry were teenage sweethearts. The love she proclaimed for him on their wedding day flowered and flourished. Together they had found what the Christian gospel calls the pearl of great price. They lived for each other and their children.
In Dunvillaun, they created an oasis of love where Áine and Patrick were nurtured, treasured and protected. She was the quintessence of motherhood.
When our hearts are torn asunder, it is understandable to lose hope. It is understandable to give way to anger, to walk blindly in the cul de sac of despair, to drain the bitter cup to the dregs so that it poisons our lives. WH Auden wrote after the death of his friend:
“The stars are not wanted now, put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood,
For nothing now can ever come to any good.”
Understandable yes, but there has to be a better way.
At her funeral liturgy, I mused on what gentle Jackie, who was wise beyond her years, might have to say to us now.
To Henry, with whom she had shared so deeply, she might echo the words of the Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda:
“If I die survive me with such pure force,
I don’t want your laugh or your footsteps to waver,
I don’t want my legacy of happiness to die.”
To all of us who knew her she might encourage us to live life to the full and to rejoice in the graces that enrich our lives. And she might warn us not to let disagreements fester into hatred, not to let ominous silences create unbearable tension and not to let malicious gossip stain our lives.
In the words of John O’Donoghue, Jackie “may you continue to inspire us, to enter each day with a generous heart. To serve the call of courage and love”.