Compassionate nurse who comforted countless people

Seelie Wickremasinghe

Seelie Wickremasinghe, my mother, passed away peacefully on September 11, 2008. She died as she lived, in peace and with dignity. To her friends she was Seelie. To her grandchildren and great-granddaughter she was Accha. To countless others she was Seelie Aunty or Seelie Accha. To my sister and me, she will always be our beloved Amma.

Before she was our mother, she was a nurse. She was barely 18 when she entered nursing school in Sri Lanka. She was 78 when she finally retired from nursing in the United States. Her nursing career spanned 60 years and three countries – Sri Lanka, Britain and the US.

In Sri Lanka, she reached the highest level in nursing as Matron of the Colombo General Hospital. As President of the Sri Lanka Nurses Union, she strived to bring respect to the nursing profession and fought for the betterment of nurses in Sri Lanka. In her capacity as President of the Nurses’ Union, she represented Sri Lanka at international conferences in Asia, Africa and the US. Specializing in ENT nursing at the Royal ENT Hospital in London, she was placed first in her class and passed with honours to receive her SRN licence to practise nursing in England. In the US, she re-entered the nursing profession after taking a refresher course in practical nursing at 60 years of age.

Amma touched the lives of many. She spent countless days and nights at the bedside of friends and relatives who needed her, as well as those she cared for professionally. Her compassion and caring for the sick knew no boundaries. As a young girl, I remember how people in need of medical care would make our home their first stop. These patients included both known people and people we hardly knew. Amma would accompany them to the doctor, walk them through the admission process, and stay at their bedside.

Born to a humble, lower-middle-class family, Amma was raised to believe in the value of education. She was fortunate to attend St. John’s Girls’ School, in Panadura, where she received a well-rounded English education. This helped her in her latter years, when she pursued her career in nursing.

She helped many of her nieces and nephews with financial assistance so they could achieve their educational goals. Today, many of them are successful young men and women holding responsible positions in various professional fields.

When the tsunami struck Sri Lanka in 2004, Amma decided to go back to Sri Lanka to help in the rehabilitation of victims. She “adopted” a young girl and funded her education. Unfortunately, not long after, Amma fell ill. She had to return to the US for medical treatment, but continued to correspond with the young girl and encourage her to continue her studies.

Amma left us many gifts – the gift of family love, the gift of compassion, the gift of caring, and the gift of kindness and understanding. Often I would get upset with her for giving away clothes and other gifts she received from family members. It is only now that I understand that this was her way of sharing. She found more joy in giving than receiving. Her life may be summed up in a few words: Amma denied herself so she could give to others.
May she attain Nibbana.

By Badra Nanayakkara. Donations in Seelie Wickremasinghe’s memory may be sent to the Maharagama Children’s Cancer Hospital

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