Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 71(3) August 2021

Obituary- Rachael Ward RIP

Rachel WardIn the early morning of Easter Tuesday, 6th April, 2021, after spending Easter Monday with her family, Dr Rachael Ward died suddenly in her sleep. She had one day remaining of maternity leave with her third child, and was about to begin a cardiology placement at the beginning of Foundation Year 2 with East Sussex NHS Trust.

Rachael Caera Ward (née Darlison) was born in Haywards Heath, West Sussex in 1992. With her family she moved to Winchester in 1997 and attended The Westgate School and Peter Symonds Sixth Form College. After considering a career as a teacher, Rachael decided on medicine after work experience with her general practitioner aunt and went up to study medicine at Clare College, Cambridge in 2010. While at Cambridge she met her husband-to-be, Matthew, a PhD student in music. After graduation from her pre-clinical course, Rachael and Matthew married in 2013 and Rachael commenced clinical studies at Imperial College, London. Her first child was born in 2015 and Rachael took substantial maternity leave out of her studies to devote herself to her daughter. On her return to work Rachael served as treasurer of the Imperial College School of Medicine Parents’ Group. She eventually received her degree with distinction in 2017, only five days after giving birth to her second child and first son. During this maternity leave Rachael and her family moved to Mayfield, East Sussex, and here she began her Foundation Year training in the East Sussex NHS Trust, working less than full time hours so as to be present to her children as much as possible. She found working less than full time to be both challenging and rewarding, and in September 2019 published an informational article on the subject on the blog ‘Mind the Bleep’. This was during her third and final pregnancy, and in March 2020 Rachael completed her Foundation Year 1 training and began maternity leave again. Rachael and Matthew’s second son was born in May 2020.

Shine through me, and be so in me
That every soul I come in contact with
May feel Your presence in my soul.
Let them look up and see no longer me, but only Jesus!
Let me preach You without preaching, not by words but by my example,
By the catching force of the sympathetic influence of what I do,
The evident fullness of the love my heart bears to You.

Words from Prayers, Verses and Devotions, 389 and 390 copied and written out by Rachael 16th September 2010.

Rachael was an accomplished musician; she sang to a very high level with the Hampshire County Youth Choir, the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge, and the London Philharmonic Choir among other ensembles. Between 2010 and 2013 she sung around the world with Clare College Choir and made several recordings. In 2013, while in Cambridge, Rachael played the role of Zima in a performance of Rameau’s opera ‘Les Indes Galantes’. She continued to sing as much as possible during her time as a busy doctor and mother, including performances at the Royal Festival and Albert Halls, and with the Mayfield Consort of Voices. A particular highlight was singing ‘The Dream of Gerontius’ under Sir Mark Elder, a performance in which her husband also took part as a member of the London Philharmonic Choir. ‘Gerontius’ was a piece of music close to Rachael’s heart, and ‘The Angel’s Farewell’ from the second part was performed at her Requiem vigil. Rachael sang weekly in the Schola of St Joseph’s Church in New Malden during her years in London, and after a year of being unable to sing as much as she would have liked due to Covid regulations, she was overjoyed to have been able to form a small choir for the Paschal Triduum in 2021 at her parish. She thus spent her last days singing beautiful sacred music, which had meant so much to her throughout her life, whilst at the same time expertly juggling her ten-month old baby. At Easter Sunday Mass Rachael sang solo for the final time in public, giving the aria ‘I know that my Redeemer liveth’ at Communion, accompanied by her husband Matthew on the organ.

Rachael’s Catholic faith informed every aspect of her life, including her work as a doctor. During her time at Cambridge she was the co-chair of the Fisher Society, Catholic Chaplaincy to the University, and later a member of the Catholic Medical Association. She was passionately pro-life, believed strongly in the importance of good palliative care and had an ambition to work as a doctor in the hospice movement in the future. This was partly inspired by her seven week elective study in 2017, a rewarding period during which she worked at the Princess Alice Hospice in Esher. In the weeks before her death Rachael was preparing to give an online course for junior doctors on the essentials of palliative care medicine. While at Cambridge her musical and medical interests combined in her dissertation on ‘The Role of Music Therapy in the Treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorders’ and her participation in work with the charity ‘Turtle Song’ with dementia sufferers.

In all aspects of life, Rachael’s attitude was one of self-giving, motivated by deep faith nourished by the sacraments and prayer. Not content with serving the Church and world as a mother and a doctor she also had ambitions to become a catechist, having trained in level one of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd during 2019 and 2020; the establishment of an atrium for this purpose was stymied by the repeated lockdowns. Into this work she poured considerable time, energy and skill, producing beautiful materials for teaching in woodwork and textiles. She was a gifted seamstress and crafter of useful objects and toys, and many of her family and friends have clothes and other tangible reminders of her love, motivated by a deep instinct for beauty, her faith and the generosity which marked her short but intensely lived life.

The night before she died, Rachael and Matthew prayed the Glorious Mysteries of the Holy Rosary and St John Henry Newman’s ‘Litany of the Resurrection’. They had also been reading Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’, beginning Paradiso on Easter Sunday after journeying through the Inferno and Purgatorio in the previous two months.

Rachael’s Requiem Mass was offered at St Peter’s Church in Winchester on 28th April, the feast day of her favourite saint, St Gianna Beretta Molla, also a doctor and mother, and she is buried in the churchyard of St Dunstan’s Church, Mayfield.

Matthew Ward