HOMILY – Funeral Mass for Evelyn Oldershaw
Today, we gather with very mixed emotions to worship God, and to celebrate the funeral mass for Evelyn Oldershaw. As a family, you will be feeling a deep sadness and upset, that pain that comes from losing someone you love so dearly – a mother, a grand mother, a sister, a friend. You need to know that everyone here today shares in your pain, and is here to support you, and to be with you in your loss.
But today, we also gather as a much wider family, the Christian family to which Evelyn belongs, a family which has great hope and trust in a loving and merciful Father, a God who loved us so much that he sent his only son into our world, to be with us in our darkest moments, and who has won for us the gift of eternal life.
Evelyn was born on 23 June 1938 in Edinburgh, and was the eldest of six children. She was brought up in Gilmerton Dykes and attended school with the Sisters of Mercy at St Catherine’s Convent in the city. When she left school, Evelyn had a number of jobs – at Oatridge College in the catering department and at Turnball and Wilson as a sales assistant, to mention two. Later, Evelyn often had two or three jobs at once to make sure she could provide well for her family.
On a night out with her sisters, Evelyn met Bill Oldershaw, the man she would fall in love with and marry. Evelyn and Bill had many happy years together, living in West Calder, Mid Calder
and then moving to Livingston Village. They both loved to travel and visited many places through the UK. But their favourite holiday destination, with many happy memories, was Los Gigantes in Tenerife, where they visited many times. Evelyn and Bill would also travel to Newcastle to see Catherine and Barry and just loved spending time with their grandchildren, Lauren and Kieran.
After Bill suffered a stroke, Evelyn looked after him and nursed him at home in Livingston until he died in 2017. Even although the stress of caring for Bill was immense at times, Evelyn remained steadfast and would not entertain the mention of Bill being any where other than with her. Nothing was a bother for her and she attended to him day and night.
Some time after Bill’s death, Evelyn decided to move back to Edinburgh to be nearer her family, Roz, Pat and Douglas. She secured a lovely flat in Hyndfords Close on the Royal Mile and began to settle in to her new home, although she did miss her little garden in Livingston, which she tended so well. However, soon after her move, Covid-19 arrived and changed all our lives significantly.
Evelyn found herself rather isolated during lockdown and beyond and found his difficult. She was so grateful for the support of her family and friends during that time and for the friendship of Francis from this parish, who kept in regular
contact and would go and visit Evelyn and meet her outside her flat when the restrictions allowed. Evelyn also loved her regular stays with Roz and her family and the time spent with Pat and family. Portobello, I think, was her second home and I know she felt so welcomed, here at St John’s.
During this time, Evelyn’s health deteriorated and after numerous doctors and hospital appointments, she was eventually admitted to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. The prognosis was not good and some weeks later, Evelyn moved to Finlay House where she was cared for until her death on the morning of 9 September.
Catherine remembers her mum as being so kind and loving. She loved her family and would do anything for them. Anytime the family would visit, it was as though Evelyn was feeding the 5000 – an abundance of food, with an equal abundance of love, no expense would be spared. This kindness and generosity was also shared joyfully with others. Evelyn was more interested in other people than herself and had a great knack of being able to listen as people shared their life story with her.
I got to know Evelyn in 2016 when I was a priest in Livingston. I would visit Evelyn and Bill to bring them Holy Communion and when Bill died I celebrated his Funeral Mass. Evelyn became a good friend to me and we spent a lot of time talking about her life and life in general. She invited me for lunch on many occasions and when I moved to the parish of Peebles and Innerleithen in 2018, she was a regular visitor during her much loved visits to her brother, Douglas in Walkerburn. Every time Evelyn phoned me, she would ask if she was being a nuisance; such was her humility. If only she knew that I benefited just as much from the time we spent together as she did.
It was such a privilege for me as her friend and a priest, along with Fr Jock, to be able to visit Evelyn in the Royal Infirmary and in Finlay House, to bring her Holy Communion and to anoint her with the Sacrament of the Sick.
Our Gospel reading today could not have been more apt. In the teaching of the Beatitudes, Jesus is showing us how we should live, what we should value, if we are to be his followers, if we are to be people of love, if we are to be people who experience true happiness.
Poor in spirit, which means not being filled with our own self-importance but being interested in the needs of others; being gentle, being merciful, seeking peace and doing what is right. Understanding that abuse and persecution on account of faith in Jesus Christ has a value and will be rewarded.
While Evelyn, as a human being will have had her shortcomings, as we all do, she embodied many of these beatitudes in her life; at her core, this is the kind of person Evelyn was. She had a simple and uncomplicated faith in God, which shone through daily in her life and was so evident as her life was coming to an end.
In our first reading today from the Book of Wisdom, we read about how death might appear to some – a disaster, an annihilation, a punishment. But to those of faith, it is a very different matter. We read that ‘they who trust in him will understand the truth, those who are faithful will live with him in love; for grace and mercy await those he has chosen’. It is this grace and mercy that gives us hope. It is to the Father of mercy and love that we commend Evelyn today.
It is Evelyn’s time to return home and, while we feel the pain of that separation and loss, we know that one day we will meet again, in that eternal kingdom where there is no pain, or sadness or loss.
We pray that God, our loving Father, will forgive Evelyn her sins, that he will reward her for her goodness, and will welcome her in his heavenly kingdom – that place of light, refreshment and peace.