Eulogy as prepared for delivery at St. Thomas the Apostle Church, Peabody, Masachusetts, March 5, 2009
Ain't She a Woman?
Patricia Jennings-Welch: A Great Lady, A Great Legacy
Patricia Jennings-Welch. Wow. Ain't She a Woman! When I first memorized lines from the famous speech of Sojourner Truth, all I could think of was my mom. "That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man - when I could get it - and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman?"
All I learned about respect and dignity, about striving and not letting people be put down, it all came from this amazingly complicated, strong and astoundingly determined woman to whom we bid farewell today. This woman who taught me to respect strength and compassion with equal weight—-the woman, in short, who taught me how to be a man. This woman who taught so many so much, and from whose example I learned that nothing is beneath us-—that unclogging toilets goes hand in hand with learning and teaching reading or a foreign language, that a life without striving is a life without value—but also that striving for oneself without raising others up is as pointless as it is morally reprehensible.
I was incredibly blessed to have such a truly special relationship with this woman: my mother, my friend, my confidant, my mentor. But she touched so many lives, and so vigorously enjoyed the life she spent with all her children, from the retreats and trips to San Antonio and Austin to every last swim meet, mass, ball game, birthday party and celebration she could get to, however she could get there, for absolutely as long as she could stay. And far beyond her own immediate family, people always felt like they owned a piece of her. She may have been all that to me, but Mima was state property in a sense. One of so many wishes we received pointed out this quality—in addition to her tremendous intellect, her voracity and thirst for knowledge, and her incredible teaching capacity. The one quality shared first by my friend Volker from Germany was that she made everyone feel like she was their mother too: "She was the greatest mom you could ever have. As you know, I loved being treated by her as if I was yet another one of her children just because of this: everybody would have wanted this woman - as a mother, as a school founder - as a Mensch. Although it is very sad that she's gone now, she will be more living even now than many people actually alive - in our memory."
This is why we left the blanket of flowers blank: they represent all of the seeds she planted, all of the flowers that sprouted, all of the people whose lives and dreams were jump started, pushed, prodded, brought to fruition, saved or just made a little richer by having known this woman.
Along these lines I would be remiss not to mention my wife Julia, who is now my partner in the depths of my grief just as she has been in everything else. She was at my side for years, helping me to care for my mom, who as many of you know had been in ill health for years. From helping my mom to bathe and change on our own wedding day, to the very last few moments of this great woman's life, Julia's love and support, for me, for my mom, for the dreams we all shared-—we three Dragons of the Chinese Zodiac, or the PD&J team, as she said on her deathbed, the mutual love we all felt for each other was tangible and indispensable.
And although at times she may have been demanding, we must remember now that it was out of all this love that she always demanded the best. One stanza from the song we sang earlier is particularly poignant – I was born down in the valley/where the sun refused to shine/But I'm climbing up to the highland/Gonna make that mountain mine!
And of course, she made this demand of everybody – whether you knew it or not. It is the best possible quality in a teacher…and maybe in a mother as well. And she was sometimes paradoxically hardest on people when they said they couldn’t—and especially those to whom others had said they couldn't. You see, the enigma that was Pat Welch, always shooting for the moon (because sometimes you hit it) had an intensely pragmatic side as well: it wasn’t that self-pity was immoral—it just got in the way too much. How many times in the past week have people come up to us with stories, like the mother who told me and Julia "when I came to bring my son to school, I told your mom 'But I have no way to pick him up,' she said 'Just get him to school; we'll figure out how to make it work.'" Gonna make that mountain mine! But again, never without raising up those around you as well.
One of my cousin’s wrote that 'we all got a lot of inspiration from Aunt Pat. She had an amazing sense of optimism and there was nothing that was too difficult that couldn't be done once she put her mind to it. And I think she was able to convince a lot of people that they could do things that they might have otherwise not tried.' In fact, this reputation for working her will against just about any impediment led to an interesting confusion in the wake of her passing. I had inadvertently written a wrong date when sending out a draft of the obituary. I sent a correction simply under the heading "typo." Her cousin immediately wrote me to say that she was hoping it was all a typo. "Patsy declared it was all just a typo and she wasn’t going anywhere!"
A couple weeks before she died she turned to me and said "honey, I want you to put me into a coma. Then they can wake me up in five or ten years when they've found a cure for everything that’s wrong with me." Another friend asked if, since she was going to the store, she could pick her up anything. "Not unless you can pick up a set of lungs," she grinned, with that sparkle in her blue eyes that made us all think she must be joking…she is joking...isn't she? You never really did know...
She had a favorite poem of her Dad's, my grandfather, that he had written for her. We recited it together in her last few weeks, and it seemed to give her comfort.
Today my child you're dressed in white
To symbolize the soul of God
To march with him toward all that's right
Along the path that Christ hath trod
Your thoughts are pure, your step is strong,
Your dreams are filled with pleasant hope
To lend you power to march along
Life’s road and with its burdens cope
A soldier true in God's own fold,
Your battle now is one with life
And may you be in heaven enrolled
When you have marched beyond Earth's strife.
He had written another poem, undoubtedly thinking of himself and his mother. I thought of it often lately, in relation to me and my own mother. When we went out for one of our last rides, and she insisted that she see everything new: the Y, the rebuilt Danversport, and finally the gravesite, I think in hindsight she was trying to tell us she knew.