Varena Toner loved a good story. She loved to hear them, and she loved to tell them. Her life was a book full of short stories, from adventure to love, and everything in between, that came to an end all too soon.

Following a brave battle with cancer, Varena passed away peacefully at her home on Saturday, February 23.

At Varena’s funeral, her daughter Kathryn Hewitt paid tribute to her “gentle, caring and beautiful” mother by sharing a selection of stories from her life, a collection of treasured moments and memories.

During her tribute, Kathryn spoke of how her mother had not feared death.

“From very soon after mum’s diagnosis she told me she wasn’t afraid to die,” said an emotional Kathryn.

“Her faith in God meant she knew there was no fear in death, and yet she also believed that a God who can move mountains could heal her. She and I talked about this throughout her journey, and I believe we saw miraculous signs in her very ability to tolerate the chemo, to use not much more than paracetamol and a hot water bottle as pain relief for most of her illness, and to outlast the initial prognosis with gusto,” she added.

Kathryn spoke of a poignant moment she shared with her mother, showing Varena’s positive outlook amidst her illness. She said: “I will fondly remember lying with mum on her bed a few months ago, and mum telling me what a gift this all was. I couldn’t believe she was capable of uttering such words but knew exactly what she meant.”

“She was so incredibly touched by the love and support that poured in when the news of her illness broke,” shared Kathryn. She added how grateful Varena and the whole family were to the people who rallied around and provided meals and beds for extended family to stay towards the end. In Varena’s eulogy, her self-written life story, it noted how appreciative she was of the fact her son Steven came home from London to be her chief carer and how Betty Abercrombie, who was “like a sister to her,” had accompanied her to medical appointments and fed her appetising meals.

Within her tribute, Kathryn told stories of Varena’s childhood, relaying tales that her mother would have once shared with her.

She noted how she loved to hear stories of the fun her mother had growing up in rural Co. Cavan at Tullyboy.

Kathryn said: “When I was a kid we would walk around the yard and out along the back lane and she would recall her days playing make believe with her brothers and cousins.”

She continued: “There was an imaginary post office at one of the trees and even an imaginary Border where they would role play having to stop at a checkpoint, and she would pretend to smuggle butter and other rationed items across.”

After attending primary school in her rural homeland, Varena continued her education at Methodist College Belfast, where she boarded. Kathryn spoke of how her mother told her of the struggle of transitioning from a primary school of twenty or so pupils, just a few miles from home, to the thousand or so at Methody.

“She told me how she would be so sad on her return journey to Methody, often wishing she had a phone that she could take with her, that had a screen so that she could see everyone back home, at Tullyboy. Little did she know that 50 years from then, she’d be using that very device to video call her grandchildren Ruby, Lyla and Levi, whom she loved so dearly and in whom she was so very proud,” said Kathryn.

Sharing how she remembered the feeling of pride when she first learned that her mother had played football for the Northern Bank in the 1970s, Kathryn added: “As a young girl getting stuck into football games with my brothers and their friends, this new information confirmed to me that girls could play just like the boys.”

Varena met her husband Robin Toner while working as legal secretary to Henry Pierce in Belfast. Their love flourished and they became the first couple to be married at Tullyboy Methodist Church. Shortly after their wedding, they moved to Bermuda.

Talking of how her mother “didn’t shy away from a challenge,” Kathryn noted that she wasn’t phased by tasks like dealing with big spiders or mice. “She loved to talk about the size of the cockroaches when they lived in Bermuda, where she took great relish using her cork wedges to put an end to their scurrying,” she said.

“Once we were on the scene, we were very much the focus of mum and dad’s lives - and mum did everything she could to meet our needs,” Kathryn said, referring to herself and her two brothers, Michael and Steven.

She added: “Mum’s servant heart was a huge part of who she was. The comfort and happiness of others was very important to her and brought her great joy.”

When Kathryn started school Varena completed a contract as classroom assistant in Jones Memorial school, where her children attended and she often recalled this as a very happy time. She eventually returned to legal work part-time with Murnaghan and Fee and later with Cooper Wilkinson where she spent 22 happy years and made many good friends.

The funeral of Varena Elizabeth Toner took place on Tuesday February 26 at Darling Street Methodist Church, Enniskillen and was conducted by funeral directors S.R. Elliott and Sons.

Varena is very sadly missed by her loving husband the Reverend Robin Toner, her children Michael (Geraldine), Steven and Kathryn (Colin), her grandchildren Ruby, Lyla and Levi and her brothers Reg, Gerald, Trevor and David.

Kathryn concluded her tribute by commenting on the many lovely messages the family had received following Varena’s passing. She said: “It has meant a lot to me to learn how others experienced mum.”

She thanked mourners for being with her family on the day “to celebrate a gentle, caring, beautiful lady who will be dearly missed, but whose presence will live on.”