These are the words my father wrote when his mother died in 1984. I remember him delivering this eulogy. I have reproduced it here, nearly word for word. I may have added a comma for clarification, corrected a spelling or two, but other than that, it is true to what he wrote, and what he said at her funeral.
I have asked permission to speak to you this morning about my mother, Katherine Patton, to shed a little insight upon the very special person that she was.
I am sure that my brother and sisters could tell little stories about mom, special moments that occurred very briefly, but had that special quality about them that made them very easy to remember, or, more importantly, impossible to forget. It’s as if they occurred only yesterday. In my stories this morning, I’d like to tell you about lessons that she taught me that have helped me cope with this life we live.
But first, a little about my mom. I don’t remember Mother talking a lot about herself. Over the last few years, I would spend time with her in her apartment, and ask her about her past. She would speak briefly about it. The stories were almost always short, as if she didn’t want to draw attention to herself by talking about herself for too long. They always ended with a little laugh or smile, and that statement, “Well, that’s enough about me!”
She told me about growing up on a little farm in Ireland. She remembered walking to school down the road in bare feet, along with the rest of the children. She told me about one of the first jobs she was given on the farm: She had to get up early in the morning and make sure the chicken and geese did not go onto the pond before they laid their eggs. When I asked why that was so important, she looked at me, surprised. “Timmy, if they laid their eggs in the water, that’s one less egg for the family!”
I once asked if she felt poor. She said, “No. You are only poor if you want things that you don’t or can’t have.” Everyone she knew had as little as she did, so she couldn’t remember a feeling of “being poor.”
We talked about school. Here was a woman who encouraged me, pushed me, and prayed me through college. I asked her how long she went to school. She said, with a tone of pride, “As far as I could.” When I replied that I didn’t understand, she told me about her last day. She remembered the teacher calling her up to her desk. Mom figured she was going to get her report card like the other children. The teacher said, “Katherine, we have taught you all we can. You now know all you need to know to go out and get a job, and it’s time for you to get on with your life.” That was Mom’s graduation.
I asked why she came over to this country, and she explained that some of her brothers had come over first. When they sent back letters and pictures, in the pictures they wore shirts with collars. That was a measure of success, so she felt that America offered her an opportunity to work hard and achieve a degree of success. So she decided to give it a try.
I am sure that everyone has a different idea of what a parent should do for his or her children. One of mine is the responsibility of the parent to teach the children as much as he or she can about coping and adjusting to all the things that can happen in life. There are many things I remember about Mom, but I was truly impressed with her wisdom. My mother gave me my faith, taught me about love and about keeping things in perspective, and explained to me how to deal with death. She always lived what she believed.
I once asked Mom how she had the strength and courage to raise seven children in this world. She told me that it wasn’t as hard as I thought. She said, “Every morning, I ask God for his grace and help, and then I would go and do what had to be done. At the end of the day, I would thank Him for His help, ask forgiveness if I failed, and begin all over the next day.” She placed her children in God’s hands, and did what she had to do. She explained it was a partnership: God would do His part, and you had to do yours. She said, “Timmy, God may give you the brains, but you still have to study to pass the test.”
When I was in eighth grade, I fell off the roof [of the house]. [Editor’s note: My dad actually fell out of his bedroom window. He bounced between houses before hitting the ground, and although he didn’t break a bone, he was gravely injured.] I asked her later what she thought about on the way to the hospital. She told me she prayed that I would be normal, free from permanent injury. If I couldn’t live a normal life, it would be best if God would take me [to Him].
I said, “How could you stand to bury another child? Wouldn’t you suffer a lot of pain?” She answered, “Timmy, if I had to suffer pain so that you wouldn’t, that was the way I wanted it.” That’s love, that she prayed for me and not for herself.
I remember one evening on Spahr Street, sitting on the front stoop, feeling sorry for myself over something, and Mom came out and sat beside me. She asked what was wrong, and I told her what was on my mind. She looked at me, and said, “Timmy, if everyone in the world put their problems in a big pile, you would be the first one to take yours back and go home.” With that, she got up and went back into the house. That’s called keeping things in perspective.
When I was very young, my brother Tommy died. What I remember most about that event was my complete, overwhelming feeling of anger! I was angry I had lost my big brother, and angry that people were in my house laughing, eating, and talking as if nothing had happened – one hour after we had buried Tommy. The next morning, I came into the kitchen, and my mother was going about her business.
That’s when I let her have it. Now here is a woman who just did the hardest thing a parent could do – bury a child – and I’m yelling at her for acting as if nothing had happened. Mom stopped what she was doing, walked across the room, picked me up, and set me on one of the hard, wooden, straight-backed kitchen chairs. She knelt before me and spoke in a soft controlled voice.
I’m sure if Mother could have gathered all her family into her room before she died, she would have told us what she told me over thirty years ago. She said, “You know, Timmy, I lost a child that I love very much, but I also have six children that I must live for. All you can do for those who have died is remember them, and pray for them, and miss them. But you must live for the living.”
We have all been blessed with people who love us. We have been blessed with friends and with children who need our love. We must always live for them. My brother and sisters, and cousins, will, because that is how she taught us. But I think it is important for our mental well being that as we do what we must do, we admit to ourselves and all of you, that we will miss her, we will pray for her, we will always love her. Our mother is special.
Caption for featured image: My father with his mother, circa 1978.