Martin's pride and sorrow at funeral for little Leana
LOVE and pride shone out of Micheal Martin as he stood on the altar, facing the little white coffin of his daughter.
The minister took us on a heartwarming, heartrending pilgrimage down memory lane as he spoke of his last summer with Leana.
So few years, so many memories of his "little princess".
He dug deep into his precious treasure-trove of the happy days he spent with his seven-year-old daughter who died last Friday from a cardiac condition that had developed suddenly.
He didn't have to travel back that far, just a few short weeks back to summer when the Martins took their annual summer holiday in Courtmacsherry in west Cork.
And digging deep into his own well of courage, Micheal told the packed congregation about that sunlit time, what he called a "beautiful summer".
"The happiest days of all for Leana was Courtmacsherry. She just loved going there. She loved the beaches, the walk through the woods, feeding the horses in the stables, and the ducks, and above all the hot chocolate with Mary in the ice-cream parlour," he said.
He spoke of the early years on holiday with Leana and how he would walk with his baby girl in his backpack. But as she got a little older, father and daughter would set out on Micheal's bike to explore the winding roads of west Cork.
Leana would be perched in the seat on the back, clutching bread to feed the ducks and apples to give to the horses.
"While cycling with Leana, my mind would tend to wander," he said. "On many occasions I would forget that Leana was in the back seat behind me, and I would have a flash of panic and I'd call out, 'Leana, Leana are you still there?' And her lovely little hands would touch me on the back," he remembered, the tenderness so painfully on show.
"Those were the magic moments for me that I will never forget."
The gorgeous image of her small hands reassuringly pressed to her daddy's back almost undid everyone in the church.
The death of a young child is always unbearably sad, but the death of Leana Martin was even harder to bear, knowing that she was the second child her parents had to bury.
For Leana's birth almost eight years ago -- it was to be her eighth birthday in a few weeks -- brought joy and solace back to Micheal and Mary and the family a couple of years after they had buried their three-week old son, Ruairi.
And it was obvious how much joy she had brought to her family, as the littlest one in the clan so often does.
"We, Mary, Micheal Aodh, Aoibhe and Cillian are truly heartbroken at the loss of our darling daughter and sister," said Micheal.
"We have cried many tears, more tears than we thought possible for people to cry, and the reason is obvious. Leana was the beautiful light in all our lives. She was love personified, she radiated love in all directions. Every day was a happy day for Leana; when she smiled the room lit up."
What a beautiful picture Leana's dad painted of her. And all the way through this dignified and loving funeral Mass there were more images crafted of the little girl and shared with both those who knew her and those who wished they had.
Beside her coffin were framed photographs of her and a lovingly-crafted collage of her beaming, baby-chubby face.
There were also poignant heartbreaking items which had been dear to Leana, each carried to the altar by family, including 10-year-old Cillian who carried up a small Cork jersey.
The priest, Fr James McSweeney, spoke of how Leana loved both her county's football and hurling teams, and how thrilled she had been two months ago when the victorious footballers brought the Sam Maguire cup to her school. "She was the most excited girl in the school," he said.
There were other touching mementoes -- a photo album of her holidays in west Cork; an apple to feed her beloved horses; a lead belonging to her adored bichon frise, Setanta; her schoolbag; a well-thumbed 'Horrible Henry' book; and most heartbreakingly, a Jedward T-shirt -- her adulation of the boys a sure sign that the little girl was beginning to grow up.
There was total silence in the church as everyone learned about Leana's happy and sun-filled life.
Across from the grieving family sat President Mary McAleese and her husband Martin, who watched as Leana's so-brave brothers and sisters played their part.
Cillian, who's been minding Setanta for his little sister, carried the shirt. Micheal (16) gave the first reading and Aoibhe opened the service with a reading, 'Farewell my Friends' which included the lines: "I smile and bid you goodbye. No, shed no tears for I need them not. All I need is your smile."
But it was her dad who somehow found the guts and the grace to pay such a loving, moving tribute to his darling daughter.
He talked of her delight in seeing her first snow last year, and he spoke of how important she had been to their close-knit family.
"At home she made us all better people, she enriched us all," he said, explaining how Micheal Aodh, Aoibhe and Cillian had "cared for her, played with her, loved her. She brought the best out in them and they are now better people for it".
And not even in this time of unspeakable sorrow did he forget to thank the staff in both the Crumlin and London hospitals where she fought for life for three weeks.
"Thankfully Leana's brothers and sister and Auntie Anne and Uncle Padraig were present for Leana's final hours and she waited for them to come. We held her in our collective arms the moment before she died," he said softly as the congregation quietly wept.
Micheal kept his composure right to the very end.
Leana's death had left him and his family "in deep shock", he said.
"We didn't expect it. As a family we are heartbroken and we will miss this beautiful light in our lives. The days the weeks, months and years ahead will be difficult."
He ended, just before he and his family carried Leana out of the church and on to her final resting-place, with one last loving vow.
"We will also reflect on Leana's wonderful life, how fulfilling it was, how loving and joyous it was, how full of achievement it was. We had in essence eight golden years with Leana and I hope and pray that the beautiful happy moments we had with Leana will sustain us in the years ahead and that we will learn to live with Leana's spirit by our side."
And they have their box of precious memories, of her smile and her love and of her chocolate-sticky hands on her adored father's back.