Mourners at the funeral of a young Armagh mother-of-two – who passed away after a brave battle with an aggressive form of breast cancer – have heard her described as a “person filled with so much love”.
She was, Fr Thomas McHugh said, a special friend and mother who had a smile which brightened so many lives and who was “devoted to her daughters”, Shanna and Meghan, aged just nine and 12.
The celebrant, at her funeral Mass in St Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh this morning (Saturday), spoke of how even during her illness, Carla “never let it get her down”.
Carla McVeigh, from Clady, had fought courageously after the devastating diagnosis of triple negative breast cancer just over a year ago.
She had undergone surgery followed by intense courses of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, which were completed last October, but just three months ago Carla was informed that the cancer had spread and was no longer deemed curable.
Family and friends had rallied round since learning of the news last April.
And a fundraising drive had been set up to raise money to explore alternative treatments after the dreadful prognosis in January.
Carla’s Hope was established and thousands of pounds was raised in a short period of time; the number of events and the amount donated spoke volumes of just how much Carla meant to so many people.
The page confirmed on Friday evening that the 38-year-old had passed away.
She did so on Thursday, in hospital, where she was “surrounded by her sorrowing mother and brother who remained by her side until she went into the heavenly arms of her beloved father Brendan”.
At her funeral this morning in St Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh, Fr McHugh called to mind a remarkable young woman who was so kind, so loving and so full of fun, and who can never be replaced.
He told how Carla had been born at Middletown and, at around the age of eight, after the death of her father Brendan at an early age, the family moved to Umgola in Armagh.
There she attended St Catherine’s College and went on to study beauty to the highest level and more recently started her teacher training.
But her world was her girls, as mourners were to hear…
“Carla herself was a devoted mother. Her two girls meant the world to her and she loved them more than I could ever tell you here today. I know if I was speaking to Carla and asked her what she would want me to speak about at this Mass she would say, ‘only talk about my girls, they are my world’.
“She did everything for them and whatever they wanted they always got. They went on holidays together and made so many memories, even in the short number of years.
“To lose their Mummy at such a young age, our hearts and prayers go out to them too. But we know and we can tell them as they grow up that their Mummy will be looking after them from heaven.
“Carla knew that she had those girls even though for such a short time. She didn’t know that it would last so short. She made every single day special for those girls. Lovely memories to remember for the rest of their lives. They were her pride and joy.
“And as St Paul said, ‘So now faith, hope and love abide, these three, but the greatest of these is love’.
“Carla was definitely a person full of so much love. And Carla also was a person filled with joy and happiness as well. She was a very popular person and had so many friends growing up. She had a lovely bubbly personality and people just loved to be around with her, and head out on nights out and different things.
“In her last three months of her illness she never let is get her down or to ruin her fun. The nurses in hospital always spoke about how positive she was and how kind she was to them as well.
“Carla was a person with so many skills and abilities and talents. She was a fully-trained beautician and she loved that work. She also was doing her teacher training and even passed her exams only recently.
“She is such a credit to herself and her family. She always made everybody so proud as they saw her grow.”
Fr McHugh quoted the words of St Pope John Paul II who said ‘God loves those who find joy in giving’, as it typified the type of beautiful person Carla was.
“She was definitely a woman who was so kind to so many people,” he said.
“And death of a loved one is something so difficult. That special person who is always there is now gone and it seems to change just everything, and it’s hard days like today that we really have to trust in God and really believe in heaven, because God gives and God also takes away.
“We thank God for the blessing of Carla and allowing us the time to get to know her and share so many good times and memories together.
“But for Carla, her time to return to God has come and for us left behind it’s not easy and there are many hard days to come, but as is says in the Psalms, ‘God heals the broken-hearted’.
“And we pray today for the family of Carla and all those who miss her. God is our light and He will brighten the darkness that we may feel in the days to come. But let us also pray for Carla that she will help us, be that light of heaven, that will shine down from heaven in the sad days as we think of her and pray for her.”
Fr McHugh went on to outline her caring ways, her generosity of spirit, the love she showed to others and how Carla wanted nothing more than to make people happy, giving of her time selflessly and with devotion.
“Carla was so kind to so many people,” he said. “From a very young age she volunteered at a dog pound near Newry, where she was there helping with the animals and the staff. Only recently she got to breed some French bulldogs and had three lovely puppies and they were such a joy for her.
“She also helped out at the horse riding for children with disabilities and special needs and she really enjoyed that work and loved to bring a smile to all those faces.
“Carla had a lovely smile herself and her laugh was something that you had heard so often. She was just so much fun to be around.
“Mother Teresa, she said, ‘let no-one ever come between you without leaving better or happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness, kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile’.
“Carla was a person who you met that you left feeling better. She had the great gift of kindness and we thank God today for the many times that we experienced that.
“And For Carla, when her sickness came along, something that would shock anybody, she was strong and never let it bring her down. She had her two supports of life. Mostly her two girls and her faith.
“Just before she died she was anointed and received the blessing of God, and we now place her into the hands of the Angels of God, asking God to reward her for the kindness and goodness that she showed over her life.
“She was a person that from the outset she had her whole life ahead of her and was taken away at such a young age.
“But for Carla, she made the best of every moment of it and she has left us all with a little bit of love, a little bit of joy, until we all meet her once again.”
It was a beautiful Mass and a beautiful tribute, everything so specific and meaningful to bring out all that Carla was and to give thanks for her all-too-short life, and the ways in which she touched so many others during those years.
Carla’s coffin had been borne into St Patrick’s Cathedral to a poignant rendition of ‘I Watch the Sunrise’, offering hope amidst despair, as the words rang out:
“I watch the sunset fading away,
“Lighting the clouds with sleep.
“And as the evening closes its eyes,
“I feel your presence near me.
“For you are always
“Following all my ways.
“May I be always close to you.
“Following all your ways, Lord.”
And as she left for her final resting place, the closing hymn too was specially selected, ‘How Great Thou Art’, again offering a reflection of her faith, its words like a comforting hand upon all who walked behind.
“When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation
“And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart
“Then I shall bow, in humble adoration
“And then proclaim: ‘My God, how great Thou art’.”
Late on Friday evening, a funeral notices had recalled Carla as a “loving mummy of Shanna, Meghan, daughter of Frances McVeigh, the late Brendan McConnell, brother of Richard McConnell, sister in law Aneka Johnston, husband Paul”.
And it also offered thanks to the “many people who provided help, support, kindness, and generosity over the last 13 months”, directing that donations may be made in lieu of flowers to Macmillan Cancer Support c/o J.J. McArdle & Sons, Thomas Street, Armagh.
Now, on this day, as Carla has been laid to rest – and after so many warm words and wonderful recollections – to her heartbroken family and friends, we offer you our sincere condolences, our heartfelt sympathy and assure you of our prayers at this time. May she Rest in Peace.