In Memory

Natalie Fleming

Died on: 17 October, 2009
Religious Name: Natalie
Date of Birth: 24 April, 1935
Date of Profession: 12 May, 1955
Resting Place: Karrakatta Cemetery, WA


Among the many people gathered here to farewell Sr Natalie I would like to especially acknowledge her sister Paula present with us and of course to also note and remember their brother John Joe and sister-in-law Mary and the other extended family members especially those from around their home in Knock, Co Mayo, Ireland. Natalie would of course be especially pleased to see her very good friend Fr Leon Russell here today to lead us in this farewell Eucharist and ritual.

In paying tribute to Natalie I would like to try and capture something of the significance of the piece of Scripture that says – ‘the Living and Dying of each of us has its impact on others’ and on each other.  It alludes to our interdependence.

So, how do we remember Natalie in terms of the impact of her living and dying? How do we begin now to interpret her absence? How did Natalie impact on our lives? What can we surmise about Natalie’s perspective on being one of us – on being a John of God?

We can make an educated guess that at times – and most of the time we trust – she had a real sense of resonance with who we were and are and with what we are about. Its fair to conclude, I think, that she would have said ‘they’re really not a bad bunch, you could come across worse’. We can also conclude that on the odd occasion – in her typically humorous and witty way – she would have said ‘God get me out of here’.

We know that Natalie cared FOR and cared ABOUT people. For example, when Sr Brid was here recently, Natalie – though feeling quite unwell at the time – ensured that Brid was given a little memento of Australia before returning to Ireland.

Natalie’s care for people was evident in the high quality service and commitment reflected wherever her ministry took her, for example:

  • Intensive Care Nursing
  • Silver Chain Community Hospice
  • Knock Shrine as a Volunteer
  • Pastoral Carer at the Ameroo Nursing Home in Gosnells
  • St John of God Hospitals East and West
  • The Kimberley
  • 10 years in New Norcia

We also know Natalie for her great sense of humour, for her wit and for her love of parties and celebrations.

She was quite intuitive, which was no doubt very helpful in her nursing and as some would note she could almost hear the grass growing.

Natalie was of course very intelligent and had a remarkable memory, which meant she didn’t have to put too much effort into exam preparations or her various studies.

She was also quite insightful – for example, when students came to her in her role as nurse in New Norcia, she gleaned quite quickly, that a request for a band aid or something to ease a tummy ache was always more effectively managed when accompanied with copious amounts of TLC.

During the time that Natalie was in New Norcia she would return here to the Convent Community every 3-4 weeks for a few days. I remember on one of those occasions she expressed concern for the well-being of one of the monks who had been taken ill. She was called during the night to provide some nursing assessment and assistance.

  • This was Nat’s first time inside the Monastery – territory reserved only for the monks.
  • It was evident from her re-telling of the event that she entered the enclosure with a heightened sense of purpose mixed with a small element of curiosity about life in the inner sanctum.
  • It was also evident that she happily disrupted the grand silence.
  • Nat’s presence caused a degree of commotion as she went about assessing the ailing monk.
  • Other monks peered out of the cells to ascertain what was happening. None of this scene was lost on Natalie as she proceeded to say hello to each of them – in the middle of the grand silence.
  • Her typically affectionate use of the term DARLING was now to the fore as she greeted a number of half-awake monks with – ‘Ah, darling did we wake you up’ or ‘darling are you okay’ as she proceed to enquire after each ones well-being.  And so, all the Doms were Darlings!
  • Back to the sick monk who was actually quite unwell. However, it was assumed that Natalie would provide some medication to ease his pain for the night, which – if nothing else – would allow things to return to normality in the enclosure – and that if need be in the morning the monk would be taken to see a doctor for further treatment.
  • But, Natalie said No, this man is seriously ill, it’s important that I stay with him in case his condition deteriorates – besides we might have to get an ambulance during the night for him.
  • There was a pregnant pause in the conversation when it became evident that it looked as if Nat was going to be in the enclosure for the night.
  • As a more acceptable alternative, the monk in charge suggested that he would stay up with the patient during the night – to which Nat quickly responded – ‘and if you’re keeping the Grand Silence, how am going to know if the man is dying?’ The monk started to look a little anxious and said ‘Sister, I will call you if his condition deteriorates’.  After providing a few pieces of advice with regard to the importance of noting any vital signs of change in the patient, Nat departed the enclosure reflecting her somewhat lack of confidence in the newly self-appointed carer by saying ‘of course its preferable that we order an ambulance during the night than a hearse in the morning’!
  • That encounter typifies Natalie’s ability to read a situation and enjoy responding to it with a sense of mischief and fun.
  • By the way the patient was admitted to hospital but thankfully lived to see many more days.

Natalie was of course a very capable woman but she was also very familiar with suffering.   We usually don’t have a choice in suffering and if we did we most probably wouldn’t choose it at all.  None of us know what form suffering might take for us – even in the not too distant future.  But we do know, based on evidence here in the Villa, that we can assist each other in managing suffering and that in helping the person who is suffering the carer is brought face to face with the Mystery of Suffering.  We also, know that the challenges faced by another of living with pain of whatever kind, tends to have a mirror effect for us – in other words it reminds us of how it could be also for ourselves.

Natalie suffered deeply, especially over the past eight years.  She was assisted in bearing her suffering by the wonderful carers here in the Villa – Lyn and the staff. Then there was the companionship provided by the sisters especially those who visited her on a regular basis.  There were the sisters who kept vigil with her during her last days and nights. I know nobody will mind me singling out Sarto for special mention in this care support.  You have been a true and faithful companion Sarto and to put a Scripture slant on it – you have been with her from the beginning.

And so, when we remember Nat, what might be our prayer for her – probably very similar to what we would wish for ourselves when this moment comes for each of us as indeed it will.

  • Let our prayer be that we continue to fondly remember the very best of who Natalie was: her sense of service; her sense of fun and laughter; her wit and insight; her talents and her commitment to caring for others
  • Let us also pray – as indeed we would for ourselves – that God will view here suffering and struggles as only He can – that is, through the eyes of great compassion
  • Finally, to paraphrase the words of John O’Donoghue, let us remember the: Natalie is now in a place where there is no more shadow, darkness, loneliness, isolation or pain. She is home. She is with God from whom she came. She has returned to the nest of her identity within the great circle of God.
  • Let us have true belief in those words and rejoice with and for Natalie.

Goodbye dear Nat.

Delivered by Sr Pauline O’Connor, Province Leader

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