Family and friends of Jody Keenan, who passed away in Newry at the weekend while waiting for an ambulance, have heard her described as a “wonderful” person “who allowed her light to shine”.
The 39-year-old, who had been a teaching assistant in her working life, was remembered as a warm and welcoming young woman who gave so much of herself to help others and to help shape her community.
Fr Liam McKinney’s moving tribute to Jody came during Requiem Mass in the Church of the Assumption, Drumalane.
And in a beautiful ceremony, Jody’s heartbroken mum Ursula, who had rendered First Aid to her daughter after she collapsed walking home from a night out, brought her own tribute in verse.
All within the Parish of Middle Killeavy and much further afield had been shocked to learn of the news which broke after the young Newry woman’s passing on Sunday.
It had been reported that she died while waiting over 45 minutes for an ambulance to arrive from Belfast due to a shortage of cover locally.
The manner of her passing may have taken one before their time, but the influence and inspiration which Jody brought daily into others’ lives was recalled.
Indeed, the celebrant’s words of comfort to the grieving assured them: “Jody’s life has not ended; rather, it is simply beginning.”
Fr McKinney likened the loss of their loved one to the confusion and chaos experienced as the result of a power cut, and spoke of how the loss would be most dearly felt within the family unit.
“Everything seems to stop,” he said. “The TV goes blank, the radio goes silent, the cooker goes cold. Worst of all, the lights go out. We are plunged into complete darkness.
“Many feelings come to us. We can feel lost, helpless, maybe even a little frightened. We run to the fuse box and trip switch, trying to find the cause of the situation we find ourselves in.
“Sudden death. Tragic death. Young death. It can often be a similar experience to that power failure. Without the slightest warning or chance to prepare ourselves we are thrown into darkness and confusion.
“In the space of a moment our whole world seems to be turned upside down.
“No matter how deep the shock and sadness of this community, Jody’s death naturally has its deepest impact on you, her family and friends. On her brothers, her parents, having to bury a daughter, something that seems to go beyond the natural course of life.
“None of us here today can appreciate or fully understand what you, Ursula and Seamus, go through today, what you have gone through over the last few days.
“Certainly we want to help, doubtless we offer prayers and support, but ultimately we can and will only be onlookers and, however well-meaning, to that heartbreak which is yours.
“No doubt for many the first reaction is to ask the immortal question: ‘Why? Why did this happen?’ There are no easy answers only questions which rise in our minds and hearts.”
But Fr McKinney – who went on to reflect on Jody’s life, her wish to make a difference, her contentment with her lot and place of familiar belonging with family by her side – said all of the answers “will only come clear when we stand before God”.
He continued: “Until then He simply keeps asking us to trust Him, that He will not leave us to carry this cross alone.
“Our first reading speaks of the virtuous coming to perfection in a short time. And you who knew Jody best will need no reminder of how wonderful she was, what she achieved, how clearly she allowed her light to shine.
“Although she lived with pain for a large amount of time during her life, she was determined to maintain the contact with her friends. She had a wide interest in the day-to-day lives of everyone.
“She had a genuine interest in others and in their lives, wherever she went. From school days, to the sports centre, work placements to hospital stays, her wide range of friends from all walks of life, and how she kept in contact with them, bore testimony to that deep human interest.
“Jody cared about people, about young people, as witnessed by the time she spent as classroom assistant, in Rathore Special School and latterly in St Paul’s High School.
“There she was eager and content to serve others, as well as playing some part in helping to form the future of this community, the future of her community.
“Like anyone else, Jody had a love for the surface things in life, spending much on clothes, watching the latest reality shows and of course there was that much deeper level as well, which manifest itself in various ways; in her personal research around autism, which enabled both her and the rest of the family to make the times spent with James, her nephew, as much fun as possible. Like any aunt, the opportunities to spoil were seized upon.
“Her interest in world events, even though she was willing to share her opinion, her empathetic nature meant that she was also more than willing to respect the opinions of others.
“Nothing gave Jody greater pleasure than to be in the company of others. While she did indeed love a night out with her friends when she was able, she was equally content to spend the evening in front of the TV with her parents, passing comment on whatever happened to be on, enjoying the cosy night in. The original ‘Gogglebox’.
“While she was blessed in her friends she was all the more blessed in her family.
“And like any family there were the off-days, the days of shouting matches and slammed doors, but these could not and did not mask the love and affection with which she was held by her brothers and vice versa.”
Fr McKinney spoke of the sense of shock which followed Jody’s passing on Sunday and said, naturally, it raised questions which people were bound to ask.
And he too offered assurances that her legacy would live on, a reminder of what she had meant to others and how she had opened doors and hearts in her all-too-short time here.
“We are gathered today, our hearts are naturally sad and sore,” added Fr McKinney. “Jody will be deeply missed by all who knew her, especially by her family.
“But we gather today also to give thanks. We give thanks for the life that she lived. She packed into it as much fulfilment as she could muster. There could easily be a tendency to feel that we have somehow been cheated, that Jody herself has been robbed by dying so young. Life surely can’t be confined to so short a span? The answer, of course, is no it can’t.
“Jody’s life has not ended, rather it is simply beginning. That is hard to understand here this afternoon. But like the seed placed in damp, dark earth, she will live again.
“She has left this world, barely finished with the springtime of youth, but it is our Christian faith that the flower of summer, the fruits of autumn, have not been lost.
“Where Jody lives now in the presence of God in eternity, where all is beauty and perfection, those flowers and fruits are all the more beautiful and sweet.”
Earlier, the funeral cortege had left Jody’s home at Lisdrum Court, on the Liska Road, and made its way to the Church of the Assumption.
Inside, symbols of her life – including precious pictures – were placed at the altar.
And during the Mass, poignant and magically uplifting renditions of faith-filled favourites – ‘On Eagle’s Wings’, ‘Come to the Water’ and ‘Autumn Leaves’ – rang out around the quieted church.
Family were to the fore in a fitting and felicitous farewell to a young lady who touched so many lives; from reading from the scriptures, to offering the Prayers of the Faithful, they bore their grief with remarkable fortitude.
And the reflection of Jody’s devastated mum, Ursula, brought it all home. The heartfelt words commanded attention as she delivered with dignity a tear-inducing tribute, the words thus:
Not how did she die,
But how did she live?
Not what did she gain,
But what did she give?
These are the units,
To measure the worth,
Of a woman, as a woman,
Regardless of her birth.
Not what was her church,
Nor what was her creed,
But had she befriended,
Those really in need?
Was she ever ready,
With words of good cheer,
To bring back a smile,
To banish a tear?
Not what did the story
On Facebook say,
But how many were sorry,
When she passed away?
As the Requiem Mass was brought to a close, Fr McKinney led family and all those who mourned Jody to Cloghogue Cemetery and her place of rest.
Surely, as they did so, the words of one more majestic musical offering carried with them as they made their way outside:
Golden Rose, Queen of Ireland,
All my cares and troubles cease.
As we kneel with love before you,
Lady of Knock, my Queen of Peace.
And the Lamb will conquer
And the woman clothed in the sun
Will shine Her light,
To Jody’s parents, Seamus and Ursula, brothers Darren, Keith and Jamie, and the entire family circle, we offer our heartfelt condolences at this very sad time. May she Rest in Peace.