She had requested that her love letters, which she had preserved for more than 70 years, be burnt. These were tied with blue ribbon in three bundles and packed tightly in a shoebox that was kept in her wardrobe.
Among the letters was a self-made card addressed to Guy, her husband. The greeting ended with the words: “From a maid who loves you madly.” There was also a New Year card, from 1942, from Guy to Sybil that said: “Whatever the year brings, it brings nothing new.”
In accordance with her wishes, the letters and cards were burnt and interred with her ashes at a private family gathering at Borella Kanatte, on August 30.
The Bishop of Colombo, her second son, officiated at the funeral. Sybil’s four children, 11 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren were present that day, and if one or two were unable to be there in person, they were there in spirit.
From Kanatte, the mourners headed to the Cathedral of Christ the Living Saviour, Bauddhaloka Mawatha, for a requiem service. The cathedral was packed, and Sybil’s favourite Anglican hymns were sung by the congregation, led by the Cathedral choir.
The handout sheet said: “A service of thanksgiving and remembrance for God’s gifts of Sybil Elvina and Geoffrey Eustace (Guy) de Chickera.” Guy de Chickera, a proctor of the Supreme Court for more than 25 years, passed away, aged 55, in August 1965. Sybil joined him on August 21, 2010.
Sybil’s grandson read out a poem, “The day God called you home”, and Sybil’s daughter Nalini read the intercessions, which Sybil herself had written and read at the Cathedral’s last Easter service. The Rev. James Ratnanayagam gave the sermon.
Sybil studied at the Teacher Training College, Maharagama, and taught English and Geography at the Maradana Central College, where she served under such distinguished principals as Vivian Blaze, Edward Anthonisz, and Mr. Asirwatham. She was greatly loved by her students, many of whom were present at her funeral.
From Maradana Central, Sybil moved to Presbyterian Girls’ School, Dehiwela, as vice-principal. Her teaching career ended officially at Presbyterian. In her retirement, she taught underprivileged children in and around Dehiwela, where she lived, before moving to live with her son and his family on the Cathedral premises, in Colombo 7.
Sybil was God-fearing. She practised her Christianity in her daily life. As a young mother, she took her children to the Church of St Paul the Apostle, on Kynsey Road, and then, when the family moved house, to the Church of the Good Shepherd, Jawatte Road. Sybil and the family later joined the parish of St. Michael’s Church, Polwatte, and finally, that of the Cathedral, on Bauddhaloka Mawatha.
Sybil had a beautiful voice, and enthusiastically joined in the singing at Sunday service. Wherever she worshipped, she loved singing the Lord’s songs. She did little things for Him. Whenever she went out, she would return with fish buns for the Cathedral’s security guards. She gave Mangalika, the maid who looked after her during her convalescence, a bottle of perfume on her birthday.
When her son Rohan, living in Canada, was holidaying in Sri Lanka, she told all her four children that she had saved money for them over the last decades.
She was generous to all. As her grandson Gihan said, she bore ill-will towards no one. Sybil had a fiery temper, but her anger would fast disappear and all would be forgiven and forgotten.
She drew a teacher’s pension, which would not have been much, but she would never fail to pull a note out for a needy person.
Sybil started a patchwork class for the poor girls of the neighbourhood of St. Michael’s, Polwatte. The girls loved these classes. Sybil would collect raw material from parishioners, and the girls would turn these into exquisite works of art, under Sybil’s guidance. Sybil would exhibit the finished products and hold a sale at the church premises. The proceeds would go to the girls. The patchwork classes were so popular that when Sybil attempted to turn her attention to another charity project, the girls would not hear of it.
At the Cathedral, Sybil held English classes twice a week for the young deacons. She extended these classes to members of the police and the armed forces, who would spread word of “the old lady who gives English classes at the Cathedral.” They loved her for it.
Sybil had two dogs, Mafia and Bua. Mafia would growl if anyone walked unannounced into Sybil’s room. Both dogs slept in her room and followed her around the house. When Sybil went for a stroll in the Cathedral garden, the ponies would whinny, as she would carry carrots and sugar in her pockets for them. After the ponies had gone, there were the guinea fowls and tortoises. The animals somehow seemed to recognise Sybil’s voice.
She loved her grandchildren and took great pride in their achievements as lawyers, doctors, corporate vice-presidents, computer wizards, playwrights, cartoonists, holders of MBAs, CIMAs, CIMs, PhDs – the lot. Her 10 great-grandchildren called her Nana.
Duleep’s granddaughter Kithmie formed a special attachment to her great-grandmother. “Nana has been taken by the angels, so she can get well,” said Ruwa, her mother, when Sybil was called to her rest. Kithmie then asked, “When she gets better, will they bring her back?”
Sybil maintained good health for most of her 88 years. She spent a couple of days at the Durdans’ Hospital on two occasions, when she came down with a viral infection. Early this year she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. She was taken to Singapore for a second diagnosis, and underwent surgery before returning to Sri Lanka.
The family decided that Sybil would stay at home, rather than be hospitalised, and that she would receive all the “tender loving care” (TLC) and professional service and advice she needed.
Up to the last, she took her meals and supplements on her own, with minimal help. She laughed, chatted, and walked about – albeit hoarsely and slowly.
On the night of August 20, she had her dinner as usual on her own. The meal included a caramel pudding that friends from the Church of the Good Shepherd had brought her. She then went to sleep – a sleep she would not wake up from. Sybil Elvina left us at 12.10 a.m., August 21, 2010. According to her wishes, she was cremated within 24 hours. She was given a private funeral service at the Kirulapone Cemetery.
May the Good Lord grant her eternal rest.