“Dear Me” – Renee’s Legacy

… My mother, Noreen A. Whalen, passed away on December 20, 2011 …
… I can write that date without a blink of an eye or a second thought …
… I just can’t write anything further about my mom …

… My father, John B. Whalen, passed away on January 23, 2004 …
… I can write that date without a blink of an eye or a second thought …
… I just can’t write anything further about my dad …

… I have read, and posted, similar writings from friends about their experiences with death and the loss of loved ones …

… I admire those who can write about loosing a loved one …
… I cherish the ability to read their writings about loosing a loved one …
… I embrace their writings because it allows me to remember loosing a loved one …

… And I remember my mom every day …
… And I remember her favorite song from 1972 …
… And I remember her crying quietly when she found out her brother had died in 1974 …
… And I remember her teaching me how to iron in 1976 …
… And I remember her talking to me in the hospital in 2011 …
… And I remember my sister reading my mom’s eulogy on December 29, 2011 …

… So I tell the stories of others instead …
… Maybe someday I will write …

Renee’s Legacy

“Mom enjoyed a great many things in this life, albeit all very simple pleasures: a good cup of tea, a pair of warm slippers, a stack of unread novels, a pocketful of candy.

More than anything, though, Mom enjoyed meeting people; she was forever curious about others and loved listening to their stories and learning about their lives.

Whether they were first-person accounts from “strangers” she met in the store, narratives from the diverse array of adult students at the Drug and Alcohol rehabilitation hospital where she taught, anecdotes about the many daycare families she cared for, or tales taken from the multitude of books she devoured over seven decades of reading, she delighted in them, and then in telling and re-telling them to us.

Even on her last day in the hospital (approximately six days before she passed away), as she was being discharged on hospice, she was repeatedly scolded by the nurses for removing her oxygen mask to talk.

She wasn’t asking for anything for herself, or complaining about pain or shortness of breath.

She was inquiring about the other patients, asking about their families, doing her best to discover what had prompted their admissions, and promising them her prayers.

HIPAA regulations had no hold over her!

What strikes us now, though, is how little she talked about herself over the years, how little of her own story she told.

It is true that any one of us kids can readily retell her account of the Saturday afternoon she went to the movies as a little girl in Chicago, only to burst into tears when she discovered that the price of admission had gone up from three cents to a nickel.

Or the time that her beloved brother Jim, who was legally blind, persuaded her to let him sit behind the wheel of the car they drove to the neighboring town to visit the beautiful young woman who would eventually become his wife and our Aunt Frannie.

And we can all certainly recite at least some of the details surrounding her chance encounter in Rome with the handsome young Marine from Philadelphia who captured her heart to become her husband and our dad.

But these stories, like most of the ones she told, simply tell us about time or place or other people.

Not about Noreen Angela Nutley Whalen.

Mom didn’t talk about herself.

She was an intensely private person; she held things close to her heart, pondered them in prayer, and sorted them out in solitude.

So it is the stories that she didn’t tell that are actually more revealing.

About her gentle, selfless nature; her resilience; her courage.

Like the one about her first fiancé, who was killed in a terrible train derailment a few months before they were to be married.

Or the story about losing not one, but two, babies as a young mother who yearned for nothing more than a large and loving family.

Or how she lost both parents and her only sibling by the time she was forty, after having left them behind in Chicago when she moved to Philadelphia to be with Dad.

And then how she almost lost him to a massive stroke soon after that.

Forget about the war stories that would typically accompany the parenting of six kids, the fostering of a few more, and the sheltering of several others, all while working full time, running a daycare in her home, and taking care of a sick husband.

We would be here all day if I attempted to recount the indignities she endured for her family, the challenges she faced with quiet fortitude, and the countless sacrifices she suffered in silence.

Mom never spoke of these sagas; she respected us too much to share our shortcomings with the world; she loved us too much to complain.

What she did share with us, however, was her faith – her faith in a God who is loving, gracious, and forgiving.

It was unwavering, and it was what kept her going when the plot lines thickened, when the unexpected happened, when the stories didn’t end happily ever after.

She shared her hope with us – her hope that “tomorrow would be a better day;” that some day the kitchen counter would be clean of crumbs when she woke up in the morning; that one day we kids would stop bickering and realize the many blessings we had in each other.

That was her greatest hope.

And mom shared her love.

“Always, and in all ways.”

It was how she signed her cards and gifts to us; it was how she lived her life.

Asking for and about others; listening to others; thinking, always, only, of others; and giving of herself to them.

With the greatest love and kindness.

Always, and in all ways.

A few years ago, Father Silveri, one of the priests here at St. Joseph, shared with us a few words of wisdom about patience.

He said that love was patience with others, that hope was patience with one’s self, and that faith was patience with God.

Faith, hope, and love, swaddled in patience.

What a gift.

My brothers and sisters and I were truly grateful for the gift of our mom, a most patient mom, a role model of faith, hope, and love, always and in all ways.


… And I remember …