Tag Archives: Paul Whiter

Dr. Paul Whiter’s memorial – words are my memory

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.

Dr. Paul Whiter, Requiescat in pace

I want to write this memorial for a curious reason: on Friday, April 26, I plan to attend a Memorial service for my friend Paul.

I know, memorials being what they are, that when I leave there I will ‘know’ a lot more about my friend than I do from knowing him for the past thirteen or so years, and I want to keep that part, and write it down, uncontaminated, because I will never know all of the other part, the more public part of I man I will miss.

I think it was at the 3rd or 4th meeting of our CFS Support Group, back all those years at what was then Hamilton Hospital (now Robert Wood Hospital at Hamilton), in a conference room on the lowest floor, when I attended my first meeting, and met the small group of people who have affected my life in ways impossible to count.

There was our gracious and fearless leader, Ditty, who I believe holds a Masters in Nursing Administration, and started the group along with Gweneth, a PhD statistician who worked for ETS. Other members were a PhD in Engineering whose name is Lon (and whose full name I learned only last week), Dr. Paul Whiter, a British PhD in Chemistry, and myself. The total education in that room was amazing, and the level of loss to society from none of us being able to do our jobs any more is still unbelievable.

Gwen managed over the next few years to become our only success story, and returned to work slowly, and then, I understand, to a fuller, almost normal life. By being able to do nothing but work, and working few hours. I’ve often wondered if that would have worked for the rest of us, who were coping with family stuff. We’ll never know.

The rest of us were not so lucky: we have been together for all those years. We’ve had a few extra people float through once, some who come and meet a time or two a year, but lately it has been just the four of us, with not everyone making it every time. Year in and year out. We met on Easter, Mother’s Day, and on whatever holiday the second Sunday of the month might fall. At least one year it was my birthday. During that time our families grew and changed, our living situations varied (though we may all still be in the same houses!). We went out to dinner a few times, and spouses and friends were encouraged to attend, and did once or twice.

But mostly we got together and talked. We tried to take turns. Paul was always quiet, not one to push himself forward. It was my self-appointed task at many meetings to try to make sure he got some ‘air time,’ to ask what things he wanted to talk about. He wasn’t reticent, just retiring. We heard over the years about many of his problems as we shared our own. I don’t think we agree on much about CFS: some of us pursued new ideas and new treatments, while others of us couldn’t spend the energy that way, most of the time. Over the long span, none of us found a perfect helpful doctor – and we tried many. The name of our illness – with the somewhat derogatory terms of Yuppie Flu and Chronic FATIGUE Syndrome – has varied. I don’t think they really know any more about it now than they did when we were diagnosed.

Our in-group joke was : But you look so well! It was a group where we didn’t have to explain being tired, or brain-fogged, or feverish, or in pain – that part was already taken into account. Because CFS is a ‘hidden disability’ – you can’t tell by looking at us – the in-joke was a way we turned the common reaction to our mutual plight from outsiders into a rallying cry.

But over those years I have accumulated a portrait of a wonderful man. Intelligent. Funny, with a wry sense of humor. Inquiring. Well-read. A thorough gentleman.

He battled the same things we all did: being depressed as a side-effect of this stupid illness which robs people of the ability to do the things they love, the things they were trained to do. Erratic pain, medication effects, sleep, nutritional side effects.

I’m feeling very stupid: I can see his face in my head, and hear his voice, but I can’t remember a single specific thing any of us has said in all that time. We never took a group picture. I’ve been to Ditty’s house, and she to mine a couple of times – but the guys never made it.

It was that special time – and we were friends within it, and accepted that time to support each other, to argue about treatments, traditional medicine, medications, alternative treatments. Rest and meditation and sleep. Outside, I saw Paul because he volunteered to do the sound at the Princeton Folk Music Society concerts, and I’m also a member. He was there, too, almost every time I was, sitting quietly in the back of the room, keeping the recording and sound system working, supporting the performers. In fact, I got the email from PFMS about Paul – no one thought to let the three of us know; we need to make sure that doesn’t happen in the future.

We talked about our family situations a bit. Just the basics. About his work at Princeton House as a counselor. About his friend, Mary.

One time, when he turned 75, a friend of his from ‘real life’ (maybe his church group – I know he was active in his church, which I believe was the Episcopal Church in Princeton – for some reason Nassau St. comes to mind) made him hand over a list of friends to invite – and my husband and I went to the party, and heard from many of his friends what a wonderful person he was. It made him uncomfortable, but if you live to 75, you have to put up with a few things.

I know he always had several housemates to help with expenses – so he could continue to live in his house. I believe he had cat(s) – because he mentioned it/them once or twice. I think he had several daughters, at least one back in England. And that is the sum total of what I know about a man I am happy to say was my friend.

I don’t know why our group became small – and stayed that way. Possibly new people, with the internet at their fingers, get their support online – without having to drive to a meeting. But we are all old-fashioned, and it’s curious that we stayed together, as a group, four out of the five who were there when I started.

I’m grateful that our meeting place was no more than 15 minutes driving for any of us – it helped. And the RWJ Hospital at Hamilton has been a lovely host – they ignored us just fine; I think we may have eventually made it onto their list, because there were occasional newsletter from them – and we were in it.

There were the occasional emails and phone calls, but all that took energy I didn’t have, and wasn’t at all frequent.

Going to the meetings taxed our energy, but if we could, we made it.

When Paul came – almost every meeting unless he was particularly sick, and even then some times – I always felt better the minute he walked in.

It all seems so trite – we always felt we had plenty of time somehow. Or maybe it was that our time together every month was just barely enough for what we had to do, which is support each other in whatever specifics came up that time. Recently it had been about his recovery from a very odd type of tumor – we really thought he’d beaten that one. For a while, because of it, he wore an eye patch, and looked very distinguished with it. When his hair hadn’t grown back, I told him he had a very distinguished skull – because he did. Some people look fine bald – he did.

We will miss him very much. I will miss him very much. As a fellow Christian, I hope he’s happy and healthy and past all of the stuff the rest of us still have to deal with. Our respective church groups in Princeton both use the beautiful Princeton University chapel. We never were there together, but we had talked about the times we had been there, and how uplifting a place it is for the spirit.

If there is a cure, which doesn’t seem to be happening very quickly – or even a true explanation other than ‘absence of any other reason for symptoms,’ we will think of him and wish he’d lived to see it. I’m having a very hard time right now imagining a life where I don’t see him every month.

These are MY memories, all I can think of. I didn’t run them past Ditty or Lon (who would probably tell you I got half of it wrong).

Requiescat in pace, Dr. Paul Whiter.