Noreen Madden McInnes, Keep at It, Riley! Accompanying my Father through Death into Life. Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2022, $22.95.
By John Gillman
Deeply imbued with Irish Catholic culture and spirituality, this memoir is a moving narrative of a daughter who steadfastly stood by her father during his decline and death. Noreen Madden McInnes is a devout Roman Catholic who grew up in northeastern Pennsylvania. In the hill country, we meet Frank, the patriarch of the Madden family, and his dutiful daughter Noreen, who is now director of liturgy and spirituality for the Diocese of San Diego.
The book’s title memorializes the family motto: Never give up, never quit, and — invoking their deeply rooted faith — give it to God. A towering 6 feet 6, weighing considerably north of 300 pounds, Frank embodied the family’s creed even while his body inexorably surrendered its vitality. He summarized his advance directive in one curt expression: “Give me a chance.” He was a “full-code, no-DNR warrior” whose aim was to “defy all odds!” Only at the very end did he acquiesce to his doctor’s recommendation to transition to comfort care.
In 40 short chapters, Noreen chronicles her journey with her father, incorporating many brief reflections on Biblical passages and the sacramental life of the church. The rich traditional heritage and cultural patterns of the Emerald Isle also figure prominently in the story. Readers get vivid and lively portrayals of home-based Irish wakes when the family and community gather for songs and prayers, blessings, story sharing, and, of course, shots of Jameson.
The author’s grief over the deaths of her parents is addressed in part through the conviction that “Mom was in a better place” and that Dad was sent “on his way home, to the threshold of heaven.” Throughout the memoir, Noreen highlights the multifaceted ways she was sustained by her faith, the support of her caring husband, family members, and friends.
She acknowledges that there were difficult days, but apart from a few brief references, the reader is left to wonder what these were like for Noreen.
This is a story of steadfast faith, devotion to family, and personal sacrifice that will serve as an inspiration for many.
John Gillman, BCC, is adjunct professor at the Franciscan School of Theology at University of San Diego.