Duine le Dhía

The phrase Duine le Dhía in Irish Gaelic is used of a person with cognitive impairment, and means ‘someone with God’. It is highly ambiguous, because at face value it can be taken to mean that the less mentally gifted a person is, the closer she/he is to God. It is commonly used by Gaelic speakers, however, to mean that persons so afflicted are deemed to be closer to God because their limited mental capacity makes them incapable of deliberate malice in thought or action. I recently conducted the funeral of just such a person, and it was abundantly clear that  what her family remember most about her is precisely her innocence of all malign intent. Despite all the negative medical predictions about her future quality of life when she was born, she proved to be gifted with an affectionate nature and a lively sense of humour.  She never lost either her interest in new things or her capacity to respond positively to both events and people.

Most people who are granted a certain length of years hope to be able to look back on at least a few achievements. The life of the mentally impaired would probably be deemed, by the conventional standards of society, to be devoid of anything that constitutes achievement, but by their very limitations they challenge such assumptions. Moreover, they pose a hard question to those of us who profess the  belief that no life is meaningless, and that no individual, whatever their capacities, is anything but precious and of equal importance in the sight of God.

By a wonderful appropriateness, the surname of the deceased person comes from Giolla Chríost, the servant of Christ. This she surely was, even if she would not have been aware of it, for simply by being herself she called forth the unstinting love and loyalty of others, and brought light and joy to their lives.


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