I always felt close to Mary, her supportive interest, her positive attitude and prayer for church, family, friends and neighbours and her deep concern for our nation and world made spending time with her a delight.
Twenty years ago we got even closer. Asylum seekers began arriving in Glasgow and Mary, then in her 70s, was part of the welcome team. Our church opened a weekly International Drop In and she loved making strangers feel at home. Eastern Europeans, Middle Easterners and Africans all became her friends.
We made visits together and she was great fun, always willing to sample a new food or learn a new dance. She had a kind heart. Three failed asylum seekers, Kurdish boys from Iran, stitched their lips together refusing to eat. Mary and her friend Irene visited them every day for a month just to sit with them, mothering them with care and prayer. At last they were persuaded to begin eating again.
Mary’s own mother had died when Mary was a young woman, the eldest of six siblings; she left her job to take charge of the family home. She married later in life, then was widowed with no children of her own, but she became a mother to many. Mary had a special love for the African community and to them she was ‘Mum’, the wise counsellor and faithful friend.
During the last 10 years of our friendship I felt she was mentoring me in how to grow old graciously. The Apostle Paul writes, ‘godliness with contentment is great gain’ (1Timothy 6:6) and that sums up Mary. Her spiritual disciplines of prayer and Bible built resilience, so when the pandemic struck she was anchored. Her mantra then and until she died was,
‘Don’t focus on what you can’t do, focus on what you can do!’
During lockdowns she was not idle. She would sit in her doorway chatting with visitors who sat on the chair provided on the landing, or meet one on one in Dnisi her local cafe. She phoned to encourage others and took homemade gingerbreads to neighbours. If she felt a bit down she would take her hymn book and starting at the beginning she would sing her way through until the cloud lifted.
The key to Mary’s bright faith was her prayer life. It was during the lockdown that Mary in her 90s learned to use Zoom. When she became housebound due to frequent falls she continued to come online and pray with our ladies lunchtime prayer group, always bringing us some encouragement. She never did find the mute button, so when we sang her sweet tones were heard by all. Lovely!
Her carers became an important part of her life, never complaining they were always changing. No, she saw each one as an opportunity to share the love of Jesus, and his presence was felt by all who came and went. Once a girl from Moldova appeared. They were both amazed as Mary showed her the European Christian Mission prayer notes. She had prayed for Moldova that very morning!
Mary saw life coming from God’s hand, so she saw his grace even in the direst of circumstances. After one of her falls she lay several hours on the floor and then several more hours in an ambulance in the hospital car park. Poor Mary, yet not a word of complaint or self pity, only tears in her eyes for the paramedics and hospital staff struggling to do their job. ‘Pray for our NHS’ was her cry. Then she added, ‘but God was so good to me, all those hours and I didn’t need the toilet!’
When the Old Testament prophet Elijah was taken up to heaven, the mantle of his ministry was passed to Elisha. Mary was found by her carer kneeling by her bed. Perhaps she had fallen unable to get up, but the symbolism is unmistakable. Mary was a woman who prayed for those near and far and I covet that mantle for however many years I have left.