Two words best summed up Elaine Winston, the 31 year old Letterkenny woman who died at Letterkenny General Hospital on Saturday morning. Courage personified.
Addressing mourners at her funeral mass in St Eunan’s Cathedral on Monday afternoon, chief celebrant, Fr Damian McGroarty said that despite her deteriorating condition, Elaine never gave up hope of making a recovery and returning to her job as a teacher.
“I noticed two beautiful pictures of Elaine in the room in which she was being waked. One was of her on the day she made her First Holy Communion and years later a picture from July 2009 when she married Francie - a young couple joined at the altar with God. Those memories are important. They are sincere and beautiful images of a young woman’s life that had ended too soon,” he said.
Elaine, he continued, had been on a journey from the moment she was born and baptised into the faith.
“That journey brings her and us to this moment, to this day that needs to be a memory that we hold onto dearly.”
“I met Elaine about two years ago and I can say without a doubt that I am a better man for having met her. I am a humbler priest for having had the privilege with journeying with her and God for a few moments in her life. When I look at the wider picture, the broader canvass of Elaine’s life, I see beauty and sincerity. I see love and I see courage. But ultimately, I see God. I see God in her family that brought her into this world. I see God in Elaine’s faith - the faith she never gave up on, the faith that gave her hope and courage. I see God in her marriage to Francie. They were a young couple in love for so long. A Termon man and a St Eunan’s woman rivalled in GAA, but united in love and united in marriage,” he added.
“I am sorry Francie that you have to carry this cross so early in age. But your marriage has brought both of you to the Hill of Calvary and to the foot of the cross of Jesus Christ. That is a pain I will never understand. But I pray that God and Elaine will continue to give you strength in the days, weeks and years ahead.
“I see God in the people Elaine has touched in her life from so many communities and so many backgrounds. From getting to know Elaine since I started in Letterkenny as a priest, I saw she had a number of great passions in her life. Her family - she’d often speak about going to Arsenal games with her nephew, Oran; Her friends, her fellow-teachers and her vocation of educating the girls at Loreto. Even when her cross grew heavy, she always expressed the hope of going back teaching. Her love of the GAA, of St Eunan’s and Donegal. This was a year to remember.
I remember talking to Francie and Elaine and we were chatting about the dates in the championship. I realised I had planned my holidays probably too well, booking off the weekends of the semi-final and the final,” he said.
“But Francie and Elaine embraced the great excitement of following Donegal from Clones to Croker and back. Elaine was delighted at getting to go to ‘Up for the Match’ on RTE and being at the Burlington Hotel after the final, that was pure class. It showed something so important and something that connects all the areas of her life and the people that she loved. Elaine never gave up. She was and she is courage personified.
“I believe that all this stems from her faith. She never complained, or gave out to God. She carried her cross in faith. I think she carried that cross for many of us here today. It has been my great privilege to have known Elaine, to have called her a friend and indeed a sister in Christ.
“There’s one memory that will remain with me until the day I die. I offered the mass with Elaine last Sunday in the hospital. The mass is the sacrafice of Calvary and as I lifted up the host and as I lifted up the chalice, I knew I was fully present at the foot of the cross.”
Fr McGroarty concluded: “This day, Elaine has brought us to the foot of the cross. She has brought each one of us to the empty tomb. She has brought us to the resurrection. This day, my brothers and sisters, Elaine has brought us to Christ.”
In his eulogy, Elaine’s brother, Darren, described her as an “amazing person” who had touched the lives of so many. “Family was one of the most important things to Elaine and her best fried, Francie, was her life. They met and fell in love 17 years ago and their wedding three years ago was the highlight of Elaine’s life,” he said.
According to Darren, one of the enjoyments Elaine got out of her short life was being around children. She treated Oran (a nephew) as her own child and was so proud to be Daithi’s (nephew) godmother.
“Elaine will always be remembered for the dignity with which she bore her illness. Her positivity and selflessness is somethign others could only aspire to. She never complained or spoke about herself unless it was good news. In my mind Elaine will always be that beautiful person with the big curly hair who was always laughing and could see the lighter side of things,” he commented.
“Elaine had a network of friends that were wide and varied. She had a natural way of making everyone feel like the important one, the special one. Elaine remained friends with people from every area and era of her life - and kept in touch with childhood friends, school friends, friends from Dunnes Stores, college friends, football friends and friends she met through her illness.”
Darren added: “Elaine dedicated her life to helping others. Nothing was ever too much for her and she would put herself out if she thought she could make life easier for someone else. I feel privileged for having had Elaine as my sister. As Francie said the other night, a void will be left in many people’s lives as a result of Elain’e untimely death. As the song goes ‘Only the good die young’.”
Students from Loreto formed a guard of honour as Elaine’s remains were taken into the cathedral, while guards of honour were formed by members of the St Eunan’s and Termon GAA clubs and her teaching colleagues as the remains were removed for burial at Conwal Cemetery. The mourners were led from the cathedral by Oran Winston (nephew) and Joe McGill (cousin) carrying the Dr Maguire Cup which St Eunan’s had won the previous evening. The cortege paused briefly at O’Donnell Park where members of the St Eunan’s GAA club formed a guard of honour.
Elaine is survived by her husband Francie, parents Joe and Mary, brothers Kevin and Darren and a wide circle of family and friends. Sympathy is extended to all on their said loss.