On hearing about the death of Eva Heymann, who died peacefully in the early hours of 12th February, in her 94th year, I remembered the time I had invited her back to Mildmay.
What a gentle, unassuming but impressive woman! She spoke of Mildmay’s earlier days and her interaction with persons dying from AIDS, her ongoing bereavement work and how the staff and volunteers cared for families and partners who were suffering the tragic loss of a son or daughter, a life partner, or a friend. I wanted someone like her to supervise my chaplaincy work at Mildmay, but it was not to be as she was moving on!
Sister Eva was a rebellious Jewish girl who became a Roman Catholic nun. As a German Jewish refugee, Eva came to England in the late 1930s. She trained as a teacher and psychiatric social worker and is well known for her work with people with HIV/AIDS.
Eva made a commitment to Mildmay Hospital, which was set up in the eighties to care for persons living and dying with HIV/AIDS. After working there and with the Terrence Higgins Trust, she admitted that working with persons with AIDS changed her life.
Eva had felt her own experiences of rejection and alienation as a refugee helped her connect with people on the edges of society. In her own words, she acknowledged that “the joy of being with the gay community influenced my relationship with God. And that is what I want to share with others; that living is actually good and being alive is very precious and lots of fun. … So, what I feel now is a growing experience of God’s love as unchanging, constant, eternal the God of the second chance”.
We are grateful for the love you showered on our clients and patients in the early, difficult years. Eva, your honesty and integrity still shine through your writings, reflecting the code by which you lived your life; loving your neighbour as yourself. May we who here at Mildmay continue to be inspired by the pioneering work you began here at Mildmay.
Sister Bernie Devine, Lead Chaplain