Coronavirus: Priest pays tribute to 'caring' sister

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media captionFr Peter McAnenly (right) wondered how he wound get "the grace, the strength" to lead Mass at his sister Nuala's (left) funeral

"No other priest would have known Nuala as well as I did."

Fr Peter McAnenly says he could never have imagined that by the end of last year he would be saying Mass at his younger sister's funeral.

Nuala McLaughlin, 43, had tested positive for Covid-19 in late November.

The mum-of-two from Ballygawley in County Tyrone, a social worker with the Western Trust, passed away on 22 December.

Fr McAnenly is the administrator at St Patrick's Cathedral in Armagh.

"I have nothing but very fond memories of Nuala over the years," he told BBC Radio Foyle.

She was "caring and warm-hearted", qualities, her brother said, that stemmed back to her early years.

Irish dancing was a "great love" and she had nurtured a similar passion in her daughter.

She had lived with mild asthma for most of her life, but otherwise there were no underlying health conditions, her brother said.

Fr McAnenly does not think Nuala "would have believed things would shape as they did".

"Nuala was admitted to hospital on 25 November which was a Wednesday morning," he said.

"I do recall her message to me on the previous Sunday - she and her daughter were going to get tested. Then early on the Monday she sent me a text message that simply said 'positive'."

Initially, there "was no sense of panic, no sense of alarm".

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But as Nuala's condition worsened, Fr McAnenly could sense "a turning point".

"It was really after a two-week period in hospital that I realised things were really not progressing," he said.

"It was on 8 December we were alerted to the fact Nuala was gravely ill, and doctors were looking at admitting her to intensive care".

It was a difficult time for Nuala's family.

As she remained in hospital there was an increasing "sense of separation," her brother said.

"We would have dearly loved to have been with her, by her bedside during those weeks she was in hospital," he added.

'Greatest birthday gift'

On 12 December Fr McAnenly, his eldest sister, and Nuala's two children were allowed "to be with Nuala quite briefly".

It was Nuala's daughter Orla's 18th birthday - those brief moments with her mum "the greatest birthday gift she could have got," Fr McAnenly said.

He added: "Those few minutes will stay with me for the rest of my days."

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