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A Life Worth Living…


Last week I attended a funeral that gave me more than the usual pause for thought. It celebrated the life of Florence Gilmartin from Maspeth, NY.

Florrie, as I called her, was 70 years old and had lived a full and joy-filled life as a person with Down Syndrome.

I grew up with Florrie. It was a unique experience that taught me, and the rest of the kids in my neighborhood, wonderful life lessons. Florrie was always invited to be part of what the other kids did. For example, when we went to school, so did she. Florrie was taught to travel on the bus and subway to go to school. Her older sister was charged with following her on the first day of Florrie’s first solo trip to be sure she made it safely. Florrie did fine; her sister got lost.

Always dressed to the nines, Florrie loved to go out to lunch. I recall once when she, her mom, my mother, and I went to a fancy restaurant on Long Island. Florrie graciously took the menu from the waiter and proceeded to read it. She then leaned over to my mother and whispered, “Katie, you know I can’t read, so tell me what I should order when the man asks me.” Florrie knew and worked with her limitations; they never stopped her from enjoying life.

Florrie’s family always appreciated the gift she was. They patiently advocated for her, secured all the help possible, and welcomed every opportunity to include her in gatherings, holiday celebrations, and even family reunions in other states. Providing a nurse to accompany her or making special transportation arrangements were always worth the effort. Having her in their midst was a blessing.

Perhaps the most important lesson I learned from Florrie was her deep faith and love of God. She loved going to church, frequently participated in Eucharist, and prayed always. Even in her last days when she was not able to communicate, her face would light up when anyone said the Our Father or Hail Mary in her ear.

When parents are initially told their new baby has Down Syndrome, I am sure they cannot even imagine the graces and blessings that might also be theirs. Florrie Gilmartin and her family are a testimony to this – not easy but, oh, so worthwhile!

Death is always a grace, a moment to reflect on what life is all about and what is really important. Always included, always a part of the family, known and loved by many, Florrie will be missed. Please keep her and her brothers, Hugh and Brian, in your prayers.

Sister Honora is the Director of Pastoral Services at RENEW and a Dominican Sister of Amityville, NY.

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