The title of this post refers to the Huddie Leadbetter song, made famous by Pete Seeger and the Weavers. My mother never liked it, but only because she got teased, since Irene is her name. It seems a fitting title, though. She died on July 10, 2012 in a horrible accident, and now, all I can say to her is “I’ll see you in my dreams.”
We had a funeral mass for Irene on July 23. After the mass, I gave a eulogy. Here is what I said:
Thank you for coming. Thanks to our cousin Curt Sporny for the readings. My name is Michael Yates, and I am Irene’s son. Two years ago, I wrote something about listening to music, and I said that I sometimes enjoyed religious music. My favorite Catholic hymn is the one just played by the organist: Its name is Panis Angelicus, and it is part of a long prayer written by the Dominican monk and philosopher, St. Thomas Aquinas. I promised to play it in my mother’s honor when she died. I just didn’t think it would be so soon.
The first verse of the hymn says, in part:
“The bread of angels becomes the bread of men.”
“O, miraculous thing!”
“The Lord becomes our food: A poor man, a servant, a humble man.”
My mother was a poor woman. She grew up in dire hardship during the Great Depression, living in a mining company house in Cadogan, Pennsylvania, a house without central heating, hot water, or indoor plumbing. She and her brother, Daniel Benigni, helped their widowed mother, Lucia, eke out a living as best they could, once working at the mine face by the river unloading boxes of dynamite, which the miners bought and used to blow out seams of coal. After work, they would struggle up the hill, gasping for breath because they all had severe asthma and collapsing on the couch at home. But because she had known such poverty, my mother never lost her empathy for those facing hardships, helping them when she could. The inability, or perhaps better, the unwillingness of such a rich nation to make certain that everyone enjoyed a decent life, free of fear and insecurity, offended her greatly.
My mother was a servant. She took care of her mother when she was old and infirm, visiting her every day—preparing her meals, cleaning her house, and doing her laundry. She took care of her husband, my father, comforting his anxieties during many years of sickness, even bathing him and dressing him, right up until the day he died. Irene cared for her children whenever they needed it, even into their adulthood. When I got my first job, she cooked meals for me and froze them in TV dinner trays, so that when I visited, I could return to my apartment with home-cooked dinners. These were a treat to someone who hadn’t yet learned to cook. She helped more neighbors than I can name. She looked in on her frail 90+ year-old neighbor every day for years. It is a great irony that this woman has now survived Irene. My mother also served Ford City by working as a volunteer at the library for more than thirty years. She was, more than any other person, the face of the library.
My mother was a humble woman, never really grasping the high esteem in which she was held by those who knew her. She never wanted attention drawn to herself.
In the second verse of Panis Angelicus, Aquinas asks God to
“lead us through Thy ways, we who wish to reach the light in which Thou dwellest.”
As we remember Irene’s life and ready smile, let us hope and pray that she has found that light.