This morning my husband went into work a little late so I could attend Daily Mass. The 7 AM Mass at our parish was offered today in memory of a friend of mine who passed away two years ago today. She left behind a husband, two children in high school, and many friends who loved her.
I first met Irene when Big Brother was 2 or 3, and we were both helping with Vacation Bible School at our parish. A year or so later she joined the choir I was directing. Her husband bought her a guitar one year, and she worked hard to re-learn how to play it.
Actually, Irene worked hard at everything. She was one of the hardest-working people I have ever met. She helped run Bingo at our parish. She worked at the carnival. She worked in the lunchroom at school and volunteered in many other ways at school as well. She took good care of her husband and children. She was funny, generous and tireless. And she could, in a blind taste test, tell "Philly Coke" from "Atlanta Coke" and bottled Coke from canned. Irene and I fought our Cola Wars in good fun, for many years.
Irene was Cuban-American and grew up in the Miami area. My most vivid memories of Irene are related to her ethnic background. She was longing for Cuban food, especially Cuban bread. Irene was a good cook but baking bread was not something she thought she could do. She lent me her cookbook (I think it was called "Miami Spice") and I occasionally baked her some Cuban bread from the recipe in it. (And couldn't she tell, if I used margarine instead of the lard the recipe called for!) Irene is the reason I learned the song "Lord, You Have Come to the Seashore" but she called it "Pescador." She used to pester me to have the choir sing it in Spanish. That would have been nice, but it's not a Hispanic parish--so I would insist that we do the song in English only. I can't hear or sing that song today without thinking of her.
Just before she died, I spent the day at a SFO event. When I came home, I found myself pacing the floor. I could not sit down and relax. I needed to go to the hospital where she was in the hospice unit. She was semiconscious but did recognize me. At one point I was struggling for what to say or do, and I found a prayer booklet in my purse. I prayed the Memorare while holding her hand. I found out at the funeral that this had always been one of her favorite prayers.
Irene died October 11, 2004 after a 5-year battle with malignant melanoma. It wasn't a pretty battle, but then battles never are pretty. She worked nights during the first year of her treatment and I'm still surprised that it didn't kill her then. But she used her characteristic dedication and drive to keep herself going, because she loved her family.
I have a script from my doctor sitting on my desk; I have been instructed to make my annual visit to the dermatologist for a "mole check." Out of pure laziness, I've been putting that off. But out of love for my family and friends, and because I can almost hear Irene yelling at me right now, today I will make that appointment.