Some months ago I was in Cooma for one of our deanery assemblies on Mercy in Marriage and Family Life. Over lunch I was chatting to one of the locals about some of the stories that had been shared by parishioners earlier in the day. We had both felt the great power story-telling has, especially when people allow themselves to be completely vulnerable in front of family, friends and strangers. There had been no sense that anyone held back from talking about, what once might have been taboo subjects, the realities of family life, even in the presence of the Archbishop.
I mentioned to this fellow that there had been a couple of subjects I thought might be raised during the discussions, one of them being suicide. He said to me, “well, there is someone you should meet.” “There is a guy here whose wife, and both her sisters, took their own life.” That’s how I met Noel. I didn’t want to meet Noel. How do you go up to a complete stranger and casually bring up the subject of suicide? In fact, I made up some excuse as to why I couldn’t chat to Noel at that moment, and busied myself with some petty tasks.
But, you know, something was pricking at my conscience, I had to go and introduce myself to Noel. I can’t remember what I said as my opening line – but it was pure dribble, and completely incoherent. Noel’s response was a beaming smile, followed by, “I’d love to talk to you about my beautiful wife.” I sat at the table with him, and he briefly told me Maris’ story. It was both a love story and a tragedy. I wanted to know more, but realised the next session was due to start. We agreed to meet again.
As I got up to present the next part of the day, I could hear words coming out of my mouth, but at the same time my brain was trying to digest what I had just heard. I could feel a watery sensation in my eyes. I knew I had just met a man who had shown both great mercy to his wife as she battled the very worst depression, and had also received the mercy of others, and God.
I did meet Noel again, at his home in Jindabyne. As we went from one photo to the next, he shared countless stories about Maris, his children and grandchildren. In this issue you can read a small part of Noel and Maris’ story. It’s a story of mercy given, and mercy received.