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  • Writer's pictureNora Walsh Kerr

Final Chapters

Updated: Jan 25

I started this business in 2015 and sadly, a part of this job is hearing about former clients passing away. Even though they are not family, it feels a little like losing a relative or good friend. We spend a lot of time together in the process of making these memory books, and they share parts of their lives that perhaps they've never shared before. While I may not remember every detail, I usually remember the moments from a project that brought the emotions, either making me laugh with self-deprecation or tear up with vulnerability. I'm certainly not their daughter, but I sometimes take in their stories and advice like one, and I don't take that position for granted. I'm extremely lucky to have all these pseudo parents and grandparents to share their wisdom and life experience with me, and it really hurts when I hear we've lost one of them.

In the past few weeks, I've heard about the loss of three memorable clients, so here are a few of my favorite moments from their projects. This newsletter is dedicated to them and their families.

Client 1: RB

“I was out of Vietnam by July 1969. My a$$hole friend stayed in the Philippines for three years and got out six months before me. I would’ve loved that. I got shuffled around pretty good and saw too much. The Air Force took 3 years, 11 months, 28 days, 14 hours, 16 minutes, and 32 seconds of my life, but who’s counting.... The VA made me sound like a war hero, but the truth was, I didn’t know what I was going to do next and I was pretty messed up from the war. Coming home was like a whole different world. I couldn’t sleep. Rollercoasters were out of the question—too many assault landings. To this day, fireworks still trigger me and take me right back. My head was not screwed on right for a long time.”

soldier in Vietnam
Christmas Day in Vietnam, 1969

“My grandkids are the love of my life! They make me laugh and they love me unconditionally. They are more fun than children because you don’t have to be the bad guy. I never say no and sometimes I say too much. The kids call me ‘Poppa PG13’ when I say something off color. I can’t help myself.... I’m a tradesman, so my mouth is a little rough. I drive my wife crazy with my mouth sometimes, but we never fight or say anything that can’t be taken back. She really did save my life and got my head screwed on straight after my time in the service. She is everything to me.”

With the love of his life, 2021

Client 2: LG

"During Prohibition, our family was nearly put out of business. My dad worked in this lab, concocting nonalcoholic beverages to sell. When I worked there, vanilla extract was my first project. I crushed vanilla beans and soaked them in a big funnel with grain alcohol. There wasn’t much quality control in our production operation, but people came from all over for our vanilla extract. Later, while a student at Loyola, I got the beer contract for the university. Veterans were just back from the war, students were older, and beer flowed on the campus for everything--dances, basketball games, parties--and I had the franchise for all that stuff. I delivered the beer and came to be known as the Schlitz guy.”

Enjoying Schlitz with family, 1950

“I love to think about the ways that God directed me to find my wife. I had probably three girls I could’ve married before that, before I really got to know her.... In the end, I picked a good one. She put up with me for all these years. We did everything together. She was a damn good partner. Nowadays, the Holy Spirit is a partner of mine. I call on him when I’m trying to figure something out. He gives me ideas. Prayer has been an important part in my life. My dad was a great worrier. I lay awake at night sometimes, but I try to turn my worries over to God and let him work it out. He always does.”

couple celebrating NYE
With his damn good partner, 2009

Client 3: FF

"I may be a nun but to my family I'm just F. I once gave a calling card to my brother and he asked why no ‘Sister’ title? I told him, I notice your card doesn’t say ‘Mister.’ For many years, I served as the Assistant Superintendent for the Archdiocese of Chicago, a job I loved. I did a bit of everything supporting schools all over the city and suburbs. It also gave me the opportunity to be engaged in the mission and ministry of the Adrian Dominicans, impelled by the Gospel and outraged by the injustices of our day, seek truth, make peace, reverence life. Things have changed tremendously. In the 80’s, we used to have 200,000 kids in schools and now we have about 90,000. It’s difficult to meet the rising expenses of Catholic education including salaries for school personnel. Teachers consider teaching in a Catholic school as a vocation. They don’t stay for the money.”

FF with her siblings and parents

“I was never raised rigidly, so once I didn’t have to wear a habit, I took advantage of other options. My clothes were not stunning. I bought two dresses, dark brown and dark blue. I thought if I’m going to do this, I’ve got to look it.”

woman in suit
FF, 1953

Many thanks to these families and all my clients who let me do this job. I am forever grateful and changed for having met all these wonderful people with big stories to tell. - Nora


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