Toni Rossi, Director of Communications
As her parents aged and developed medical problems, Noreen Madden McInnes felt called to care for them as much as possible, even though she lived in San Diego, while they resided in Pennsylvania. That became even more difficult after her mom Joan was killed in a car accident and her father Frank still needed help. It was Noreen’s Catholic faith that guided her through those dark days and which continues to strengthen her today. She has now written a memoir called “Keep at It Riley! Accompanying My Father Through Death Into Life,” and we discussed it recently on “Christopher Closeup.”
Noreen’s first caregiving experience occurred when she was a little girl, accompanying her grandfather to visit his elderly, widowed sisters. Seeing him perform “these Christian works of mercy and care,” she recalled, “planted a seed within me that this is how we treat the elderly, with love and respect, and you spend time with them.” In addition, Noreen’s grandmother modeled God’s unconditional love to her. Noreen said, ”She was like my angel, praying for me, caring for me, and loving me in all facets of my life…As I got older, I lived far from her but…whenever I got back to Pennsylvania, she was always waiting for me with a ham sandwich. And I think, ‘That’s our Lord. He is always there, always waiting for us to call on Him, always ready with a ham sandwich.’”
Noreen treasures the education she got in the Catholic faith growing up, and it even worked its way into her career, as she is the Director of Liturgy & Spirituality for the Diocese of San Diego. But even more important have been the role models of faith in her life. She notes, “We are formed [and] united with the heart of God in liturgy, in the encounter with the real presence of Christ. But that’s not the end. That is how we are shaped to be sent from the liturgy to be Christ to others. I witnessed it with my [family], and that shaped my vision, as I’m called now to be Christ for others.”
When her parents began experiencing health problems, Noreen regularly flew in from California to visit them. This gave her a more adult perspective on their faith, especially when it came to her mother. Noreen described her mom as always looking at life “through rose-colored glasses,” and admitted that could get annoying. But as Noreen accompanied Joan to Mass every morning – and prayed next to her as she lit her candles and said her novenas – she saw things in a new light. Noreen said, “I was able to see [my mother’s] complete trust in the Lord and her deep faith that God was truly with her in every moment, no matter how bad things got.”
And things did get worse. While Frank was in the hospital, Joan was killed in a car accident. This was a devastating blow for their whole family. But there was comfort also. Noreen said, “[Mom] lived every day as if she was ready to go home to the Lord, so I think that when we celebrated her funeral Mass, it was tragic and painful…But all of a sudden this great joy came to me…She was in heaven, and [I knew] that we need to celebrate that and not focus on our loss. That grace carried me through the days of accompanying my dad through all his sickness.” That part of the story is in my next column.
For free copies of the Christopher News Note BECOME LIKE CHILDREN TO ENTER HEAVEN, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org@christophers.org