A friendship that lasted to the very end
Looking out for one another in our local communities can cause love and loss
For years, Anna Begley met Maureen Bradley on the road on her way to Mass in the Church of Our Lady and St David in Naas, Co Kildare - Anna in her car, and Maureen on her bicycle.
The two devout women attended the same church six days a week but only knew each other to see around the town. On the odd occasion, on her drive to the church, Anna would see Maureen laden down with shopping bags as she steered her bike along the road.
One day, Anna decided to extend a hand of friendship and offer Maureen a lift to and from the church. They were travelling along the same route anyway, she told her, it would be no trouble. Soon it became their daily ritual, and, from that small gesture, a friendship grew.
Anna would collect Maureen at the entrance to her estate at Ashfield Park and see her home safely after prayers.
Anna could see that Maureen was incredibly grateful for the lift - and even more so for her time. Maureen would buy Anna a block of ice-cream on their way home as a token of her appreciation.
They knew little about each other's families, save that both were married and living alone with their husbands.
Neither socialised too much and, although the time spent together was only five minutes each day, the two women grew to look forward to that inconsequential chat. They would often exchange family news, the headlines of the day and general chit-chat.
But their friendship was gentle and non-intrusive. Maureen told Anna that her husband, Colm had retired from his job as a vet and their only daughter, Caroline - also her best friend - was living in the UK.
Around the town it was known that Colm had been in and out of hospital several years ago.
He was seen walking up and down the estate in his long, dark overcoat and would simply give a nod to neighbours as he passed.
This weekend, they described him as a "quiet, intelligent man", who hadn't been seen outside in recent years.
But Anna would never pry.
In her lilting Kerry accent, Maureen simply told her friend that "he has taken to the bed" and "the back is at him", and both women left it at that before turning to other subjects.
Last Sunday morning, when Anna arrived at their usual spot, Maureen was nowhere to be seen.
She drove to Maureen's house, rang the bell and waited. When there was no answer, she decided to continue on her way, but, during Mass, the absence of her friend wouldn't leave her mind. She wondered if Maureen was okay.
When Anna got home, she called to the house and again there was no answer. After several more attempts that night and another call to the house the following morning, she went to the gardai.
A pair of officers drove Anna to the house and asked her to wait outside while they gained entry.
After a few minutes, they came outside and blessed themselves and Anna knew her friend was gone.
Post-mortem examinations discovered that Maureen died of natural causes, believed to have been a heart attack. Colm is believed to have taken his own life soon after. The couple died just weeks after the birth of Caroline and her husband Alan's third child, Isabella - Maureen and Colm's first granddaughter. Maureen was elated when she saw Isabella in the UK six weeks ago.
Isabella's first trip to Ireland was due to take place this weekend to celebrate her grandfather's 75th birthday. But instead this weekend, Anna was one of the mourners grieving for Maureen and consoling her friend's distraught only daughter.