One of the saddest parts of the Covid-19 crisis, is the fact that many people are dying without their loved ones being able to see them. An aunt of ours died this morning in a Nursing Home in Northern Ireland – sadly none of the family had been able to go in and see her for the last few weeks. Her funeral will be tomorrow at noon with only a couple of people present at the graveside for a very short service. No-one is even allowed within 2 metres of the coffin – so they can’t even touch the coffin to say goodbye. Her name was Leevonne Irwin.
Leevonne was a spinster, her 88th birthday was last Tuesday. No-one ever thought that she would have lived to that age. Sadly, over this last 20 years or so she suffered with Dementia, although it is only in this last year or so that she didn’t recognise my sister and father. She spent the last six years of her life in a Nursing Home; before that for 11 years she lived with my father and mother, spending the daytimes in her own home and coming up in the evenings to their house and going back down at lunchtime the next day.
Our Second Mum
Leevonne was our second mum. She was our babysitter from when we were born, I am the eldest of five; she along with her brother Sam, my unmarried uncle, were our second parents. Every Saturday evening till about the age of 13, I spent at their house, my granny Phemie was still alive then and a real character. Leevonne always claimed that I nearly killed her each week because, as a child, I was well fed – and she and my uncle would take it in turns to carry me for hours. Once they stopped, I woke and was ready for entertainment – hence they would have to start again until about 2am in the morning sweating profusely and Leevonne bleep, bleeping my parents for not being back yet to take me home.
A Wonderful Great Aunt
A few years later, before we got married, Joan and I would always call at her house. After we got married, every Saturday night we would take our children down and spend the evening with her. After 1997, we started going down on a Sunday evening before church, having tea together with her. She loved Irish Caviar, as she called it – bread, butter and jam, and lived on Kit Kats for quite a few years. So our four children grew up with Leevonne in their lives also. In fact, I had two unmarried aunts, one on my father’s side called Audrey, and Leevonne on my mother’s side. The kids grew up with both women in their lives. Audrey was a very godly, wonderful Christian lady – Leevonne, full of love but inclined to bleep, bleep a bit.
A Woman Transformed
The wonderful thing about Leevonne’s story is that about seven years ago, in a lucid moment in the midst of the Dementia, my sister, also called Ann Leevonne, led her to Christ when Leevonne was about 80 or 81 – her life changed dramatically. Up until that moment – she was a woman full of worry, fear and anxiety; after being saved by the Saviour, she became a calm, peaceful and contented woman. Although still capable of an odd bleep, bleep in the Nursing Home when aggravated – the staff and residents loved her because she possessed her soul with peace, ease and joy.
You are probably thinking that the reason I wrote that everyone was amazed that she lived to 88 is because she had Dementia for so long. No, the reason was that she was a heavy smoker for most of her life. Leevonne also had incredibly sad, difficult things happen to her, she was full of fear as a result, and smoking was her means of coping. However, she took a major stroke in her 60’s and had to give the cigarettes up. The legacy of the years of smoking was terrible bronchitis. However, she received prayer for healing for the bronchitis one night and God completely healed her – it was a remarkable healing.
God’s Great Grace in Christ
Leevonne, because of all that happened to her, never felt herself good enough to become a Christian. She couldn’t believe that God would be willing to save her. For many years that is what she felt about herself and this false belief acted as a type of unbelief in her life. Even in the midst of Dementia, in her early 80’s, the grace of God came alive to her and she accepted Christ as Saviour and became a daughter of the King. Although we are really sad at her death – we are also rejoicing because she is safe in the arms of Jesus.
Hope from Lamentations
Our hearts and prayers go out to all those who are dying without family and loved ones around them. A number of ministers in the online meetings I have been a part of have been reflecting on the book of Lamentations. In it the prophet Jeremiah Laments the destruction of Jerusalem and Solomon’s great Temple by Nebuchadnezzar in 586/87 BC. The book reminds us that life can be very hard, and that there is a price to pay for living with sin still reigning in our hearts and lives. Jeremiah mourned deeply over the loss he, and his nation, experienced. They recognised God’s hand in their plight because they had rebelled against Yahweh, followed other gods, listened to false prophets prophesying lies, and persecuted God’s true prophets, including Jeremiah.
Lest you think the short Old Testament book is full of woe – Lamentations contains one of the great declarations of faith, hope and confidence in God in the midst of great mourning and loss. I proclaim these words, in faith, over our nation today: 3:21-24, ‘Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this:
22 The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
His mercies never cease.
23 Great is His faithfulness;
His mercies begin afresh each morning.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance;
therefore, I will hope in Him!”
Father, thank You for Leevonne’s life, and the grace of her presence in our lives. Although we couldn’t be with her at the end – she is Yours and You were there as she walked through the darkest valley, precious in eyes of the Lord are the death of His saints. We commend her spirit into Your hands, and thank You for all she brought to us. We pray for all who are in similar situations today – may they draw close to You and experience Your love, grace and mercy in Christ. Save and heal our nation, and cleanse our land. In Jesus’ name. Amen