I learnt the sad news of the death of Fr Paddy O’Kane’s father last Friday morning. I worked with Fr Paddy for four years in Holy Family parish in Ballymagroarty and during that time Fr Paddy’s father Dominic lived in the parochial house with us. At the time Dominic was in his late eighties, physically in great health yet coping with the onset of Alzheimer’s. If this wasn’t dramatic enough Mr O’Kane also had to cope with the arrival of a new curate in the house. This couldn’t have been easy at the start as Dominic had to become accustomed to a new face and a new voice. For those four years I have to confess Dominic was an absolute gentleman, you couldn’t have shared a home with a more gentle, caring and prayerful person. I can only admire the care provided by his son, Fr Paddy, his family and the team of volunteers and carers who looked after Dominic. It was great witness to see the support provided to someone living with Alzheimer’s.
Of the three of us who lived in the Parochial house at the time I have to confess Dominic was the most sensible. He was always immaculately dressed, and was a stickler for time. Dominic’s most frequent question was, ‘what time is it?’ The most central rhythm of his day was prayer. Always looking at the clock Dominic would recite the Angelus at twelve midday and six in the evening. When found sitting in his room Dominic would always have been praying the rosary.
There are two stories which readily come to mind about him. Having only arrived in the parish a few weeks earlier I was running about the parochial trying to get organised. Flying past the kitchen I said hello to Dominic who replied in a polite a manner as ever. However, when I left the room he asked the sacristan: ‘who’s that wee boy there!’ On another occasion I was making tea for Dominic. When the kettle bolied, I turned to Dominic saying, ‘we’re sucking diesel now!’ Dominic simply turned, answering ‘naw a cup of tea would be fine’.
We never know what lies ahead, where the path of life will carry us. Along this road we may have to care full time for family or friends, or we may be the ones in need of assistance. We’re never sure of the burdens or crosses we may have to carry. What we can control is the nature of our response to any given situation. Can we find the generosity and the time to support those who are ill, confined to home or to bed? Have we the compassion to interrupt our own routines, taking time out to check on the welfare of others. By reaching out to those in need we help to maintain their dignity and their sense of worth. Too many people are thrown on the scrap heap by society because there are seen to be of no value, leaving them to feel they are a burden. How we care for the most vulnerable is a measure of our humanity. How we respond to the needs of others reveals the depth of our faith and our commitment to following Christ. Looking into our hearts we will discover the God who asks to reach out to care for others.