I have to do this tonight, while I remember as much of today as I can. Words are my memory. Please forgive any disjointedness.
I wrote previously of my personal memories, as I wanted to commemorate the man I knew through our CFS support group and, slightly, through the Princeton Folk Music Society.
After today’s Memorial service for Dr. Paul Francis Whiter in Princeton, I know a lot more details about his life, and I’m amazed at the number of things and people he managed to find space and time for in his life.
The Rev. Paul Jeanes’ homily was preached by one who knew him well and spoke of the intellectual Christian who read and discussed his faith, and participated fully in his church, Trinity Church. Rev. Jeanes had Paul pegged, not only in reminding us of the way Paul used his hands when arguing, but of details such as the way he wore his reading glasses. Rev. Jeanes lit a thin taper, his church’s type of votive candle, with the comment that it was, like Paul, tall and thin and slightly bent over. Then he walked to a tiny side chapel with Jewish and Christian symbols for unity, and remembered Paul there, at prayer.
One of Paul’s sisters spoke of him as an older brother, playing at the seaside in England, capturing insects and crawfish, and persuading his mother to let him keep two mice who were certainly female. Nine baby mice later… The picture of him as an inquisitive young scientist reminded me of his keen interest in science and medicine, topics that came up frequently as we wondered in our little support group when ‘they’ would do the research and figure out what is wrong with ‘us’ and how to fix it.
One of Paul’s daughters spoke of his interest in books, finding them all over his house in untidy stacks. The untidiness was not necessarily the result of procrastination; I have it myself, as do our other support group members: they are a sign of using our very limited energy for the reading – and then never having enough left over for the relatively unimportant task of putting them away. Just like Mary, at Jesus’ feet in the Bible story, Paul chose to use his energy for the better part. He had even asked one of us, only partly joking, if he could bring his family over to one of our houses to see that he wasn’t unique! Of course the answer was ‘yes,’ though the exercise was probably not performed. He could choose to pray, discuss, and go to the Princeton Folk Music Society concerts to volunteer his considerable gifts as a sound engineer – or he could clean house.
Paul apparently recommended Fr. Richard Rohr’s book Naked Now to many people, including Rev. Jeanes. I will make a serious effort to find it and read it, though I find if I read, I can’t write, so it may take me a while – there is only so much energy daily for challenging the brain!
‘Sad news,’ said the email I received from PFMS’s Justin Kodner, and ‘So sad,’ was the email I received from one of our group members who couldn’t come, but, although it IS very sad that we won’t see him any more, and so many things in his life that he dealt with – like our stupid disease – are objectively sad, Paul’s life was NOT sad. He used to say that we couldn’t be suffering from depression, not the clinical kind, not the catchall term that physicians and psychiatrists who don’t believe in CFS despite the evidence in front of them, because we enjoy life, as much as we can get, and he was right. He told and enjoyed jokes. He listened and talked at our little monthly meetings, and very occasionally, when something like pneumonia or the tumor or a particularly bad day, he would confess to being tireder than usual. But he didn’t waste his time talking about it. We thought, even when he was in the hospital and had battled out of the ICU where the pneumonia dumped him, he was getting better. We saw how the chemotherapy reduced the tumor. But, from the many preparations he discussed with his pastor, including leaving instructions for the service, he suspected what was happening. I don’t know that we – our CFS gang – could have done anything differently.
It couldn’t have been a more beautiful spring day to commit Paul’s ashes, with pale green budding leaves, the beginnings of dogwoods and flowering cherries and magnolias under a clear blue sky. We stood (or sat) outside for a short prayerful ceremony in the church’s Memorial Garden a few steps from the entrance, after the service, which was full of the traditional hymns, and used the older words for the Bible translations, a balm for me, jangled by the Catholic church’s insistence on more ‘accurate’ translations.
I was reminded of the fourth vow some Christian monks take in addition to their other vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, the vow of stability, of staying in one place for the remainder of their lives. Thomas Merton wrote that it meant giving up the hope of finding somewhere else more perfect, and settling in, for life, to the ordinariness of the chosen place. I like to think that Paul did that when he chose to live in Lawrenceville, when he chose the Princeton organizations, and our little one, to spend his life in. It gives me peace to know that he remains here, in the little Memorial Garden.
The full text of the obituary below is taken from http://www.centraljersey.com/articles/2013/04/25/obituaries/ob_0001239337-01.txt. It is all public knowledge, though the copyright 2013 resides with Packet Publication Website. I think reprinting this lies within an acceptable use. I could not read and parse the Terms of Service which were many thousands of words long and covered eventualities I can’t fathom. Not today. If there is a problem with this use, I will deal with it later.
“Paul F. Whiter, Ph.D., of Lawrenceville, NJ, died on April 20, 2013 at Princeton Medical Center after a brief battle with cancer. He was 78. Born in Kent, England, he served 2 years in the British Armed Forces and graduated from London University with a Ph.D. in organic chemistry. He is predeceased by his parents, Harold H. and Lilian M. Whiter, brother Anthony and son Christopher. Paul is survived by sisters Pamela Hall of Kent, England, Kathleen Parker of London, Ontario, daughters Josephine Cross-Whiter and husband John of Seattle, WA, Ruth Tierney and husband Ralph of Powhatan, VA and Catherine Whiter of Suzhou, China; four nieces and nephews, and three grandchildren. Paul was a devout and active member of Trinity Church and a dedicated member of the Princeton Folk Music Society and other community organizations. A celebration of his life will be held at 11a.m. on Friday, April 26 at Trinity Church, Princeton, NJ. In lieu of flowers, send donations to Trinity Church, 33 Mercer St., Princeton, NJ, 08540 or the Princeton Folk Music Society, P.O. Box 427, Princeton, NJ, 08542.”
If you have any other information you wish to share about Paul, please feel free to leave it in the comments. I will be very happy to read more about him.