Bridget tossed and turned. The night was cold. She pulled the sheet over her shoulder, shivering beneath the covers. She turned over on her side once again, restless in her sleep. It was 12.30am in the morning of the 2nd November. Her eyes opened suddenly. Still on her side, the child blinked several times before turning over onto her back. The woman at the end of the bed was looking at Bridget her hand outstretched, pleading. Bridget sat up on her elbow, rubbed her eyes and looked on at the figure in front of her. The woman was dressed in a long black dress. She wore a shawl around her shoulders which was also dark in colour and frayed at the edges. She was tall, with distinct features, dark brown hair combed back from her face and held in a clip. She had a strong face with blue eyes clouded with grief. Her outstretched hand was red, almost brown. She again pleaded with the young child, "please help us, we have no bread!" Bridget looked to the right of the woman where two men stood, back a little in the distance, almost silhouetted as they were not so visible. One man seemed much younger and thiner than the other. The young child looked down at their tweed trousers and saw that they had no shoes. They were in their bare feet with caps in their hands and heads bowed. Bridget watched the incredible scene at the end of her bed unable to move, as she continued to take in this extraordinary sight. Suddenly the three figures disappeared as quietly as they had presented themselves. The young girl turned her head to the bedroom door which remained closed. The window was closed, the night air sitting in a grey film over the glass pane.
She called over to her sister in the bed opposite. "Helen, Helen, wake up! Wake up!" Helen popped her head out from under the blanket. "Stop calling me, I was asleep." "Helen, there was a woman here, she was so sad." "I'm not listening, you're trying to scare me, I'm going to sleep." Bridget continued to look at the spot at the end of the bed where she had seen the woman and the two men. She wasn't afraid and she wasn't scared, she told herself, but who were they? She slipped down beneath the blankets, her wide eyes peeking out over the covers for one more check before falling into a deep sleep.
"I did see her, I know exactly what she looks like," Bridget insisted as her sister teased her. "Then just forget about it, okay?" Bridget's mom repeated. "How can I forget if she was asking for help?" Bridget persisted. "Tell me what she looked like?" Bridget's father put down his newspaper, speaking for the first time about the incident. Bridget described the woman exactly as she had seen her. Her father looked at his wife then looked back at his daughter. "Well maybe your mom did have a visitor and she just had to pop into your room to get a glimpse of you adorable girls sleeping!" Happy that at least someone believed her, Bridget grabbed her school satchel and waved goodbye to her parents. She didn't get any explanation for the woman dressed in old clothes but she couldn't forget the three figures. The weeks and months passed. Every now and then but most especially in early November Bridget remembered the sad lady and she became sad, feeling helpless and worried that she had not helped. She could not forget the scene of that night. From then on every late October/early November cast a shadow of gloom over her young heart that she could not shake off and which remained until Christmas week of each year.
The years passed and Bridget turned eighteen. Her desire to work with the elderly was about to be fulfilled. A letter in the post confirmed her application acceptance for Nurse's Aide in a home for the elderly. It was the other side of the country, a five hour journey but she was excited at the thought of going to work for a religious order who looked after the aged and infirm. The excitement remained with her as she waved goodbye to her parents from the train pulling out. "I'm only going on a six month work experience with the elderly" she thought to herself, "but why am I so deeply excited?" she questioned. She would look back on this moment in years to come and see why the almost prophetic-like sense of something ahead was speaking to her heart!
Sister Mary gave a warm welcome to Bridget. Taking her suitcase she led the way upstairs. "I'm giving you this room, it's near the main entrance, chapel, and seafront, so you are free to come and go as you wish. If you need to know anything don't hesitate to ask! Also, feel free to make coffee or tea in your room and to visit the chapel at anytime."
That night, when the sisters had finished prayer and the lights were dimmed, Bridget walked along the back corridor to the chapel and opened the door. She stepped inside and genuflected. She looked around in wonder at the beautiful stained glass windows. There was a reverence here, a sacred worship to the Lord that greeted one immediately on entering this house of prayer. It was the tabernacle that drew her. She walked up to the top of the aisle and slipped into the front seat. Kneeling there, she studied the cloth over the tabernacle. It was made of old Irish lace, so delicate and fine, like an exquisite veil especially made for a royal throne. The pure white lace, placed over the tabernacle, took her breath away and she sat back in her seat, unable to take her eyes off the sanctuary in front of her.
The summer passed quickly and only two weeks remained of her six month work experience. "Good morning Bridget!" Bridget turned to see Sr. Mary smiling at her. "I have a new resident this morning, I'd like you to attend to Canon Moran if you don't mind. He's an elderly priest who is recovering from surgery. Would you assist him on short walks?"
The priest closed his prayer book and looked up at Bridget with interest. "You are from the country?" "Yes Father," she replied as she took his black jacket and put it on a hanger. "Glendusk." "Glendusk! Good heavens, that's my homeland," the priest replied, liking everything about this nursing home! "What is your surname?" "Quinn." "Quinn! But your ancestors were my neighbours. That would be Marie and Martin Quinn. Did you know that?" Bridget shook her head. "Oh yes, your great grandmother was well known in the village. She worked hard in the fields. For hours a day she would be out there, late into the evening, her hands red almost brown in the long hours of tilling and planting. She lost a son from fever and she died herself while waiting for the return of her husband who had gone to America in search of work. All very sad. It was feared he died tragically shortly after arriving on Staten Island, no trace of him anywhere. My own family spoke often of Marie Quinn. You would be very like her I would think!" "Why would you say that?" Bridget asked curiously. "Well Marie was tall, her brown hair always held back in a clip, and her blue eyes that held laughter before difficult times." Bridget was folding towels and stopped suddenly. She walked over to the priest...."sorry father, what did you just say?" Canon Moran described again his neighbour of years gone by and Bridget knew without a doubt he had described the woman she had seen seven years previously in her room. "What's the matter?" Canon Moran asked as he saw her look of amazement.
Bridget related all that had happened on that November night in her room. The priest listened attentively, nodding occasionally. "When did this happen did you say?" "It was very late in the night, going into the 2nd of November," Bridget replied. "Do you know what day that is in the Church year?" He asked. "I know it's the month for the Holy Souls," Bridget answered. "I know that now, but at the time I wasn't aware of that." Canon Moran never took anything for granted that spelt out grace at work and once again here it was in an every day work situation. "We pray for the Holy Souls on the 2nd of November. It is important we do not forget them," he told her. "Our loved ones, gone before us benefit greatly from our prayers at that time. If they are in purgatory they need our prayers to assist them on their final steps home to heaven." The priest continued, "having listened to your account of what happened I think we should have a Mass said for the woman who asked for prayers, it may well be that you had a dream, it may be that you did actually see her, whatever it is, God's mercy works in wonderful ways!"
The following week Bridget attended a private Mass for her great grandmother, and the two men, mentioned also in the prayers for the deceased, her son and husband. At the consecration of the Mass, as the priest raised the host, Bridget burst into tears without any warning. Her hands covered her face as the tears of generations spilled through her fingers onto the polished floor of the prayerful chapel. Like a small river dam set free to flow, on and on the tears spilled, while the spirit filled eyes of Canon Moran took in those moments of grace and mercy. Gathering herself together to receive the Eucharist Bridget stood up and walked up the aisle, head bowed before the Lord as she received the sacred host for the pleading lady of many years earlier. Back in the pew, kneeling down, the words flowed up, sweet as honey, from the depths of her being into her heart and thoughts - "I am the Bread of Life, whoever comes to me shall never be hungry..." Suddenly, a dark invisible weight, like a heavy winter coat that had sat as a burden upon her young shoulders for seven years was now being removed. The heavy weight taken off and lifted up into the air disappeared. For some time after Mass Bridget remained there deep in thought, immersed in profound peace.
As she stepped outside the chapel, Canon Moran walked towards her, his hand outstretched. "Well, it's time to go! I have made a very good recovery and I continue to do the Lord's work for another while, if He wishes it to be so!" He smiled at Bridget, his head nodding in quiet understanding while his thoughts spoke inwardly of the work ahead that this young woman had. A call that would take her to places unknown. Bridget in her own private thoughts wondered was she actually putting her hand into the hand of a saintly man as she bid farewell to a close friend of the Lord's. As the taxi drove off, she remained standing there waving. She knew something had happened, she didn't need to question any more. She also knew that when it was time for Canon Moran to be taken to his heavenly home there would be many souls there waiting to welcome him, one in particular - her great grandmother Marie.