Tuesday, January 28, 2014

My Mother's Passing

Connie Sue (Southerland) Litwiller
September 8, 1941 - December 15, 2013
W.L. Pruitt Obituary Page
Mother woke me at 4:30 a.m. on Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013. She had pain in her neck, pressure in her chest, and had broken out in a cold sweat. She wanted me to call the ambulance, which I immediately did. When they arrived, she was still up walking around and had gone back to her room to get something. They asked if she was able to walk down the few steps out front to get on the gurney since it was snowing, and they didn't want to mess up our floors tracking in. She was more than able to do that. I found out later they administered nitroglycerin in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. 

At the hospital, they gave her another nitro and got her all hooked up to get her vital signs. All through our ordeal at the hospital all of her vital signs were within normal ranges. Even her EKGs were normal. But, the pain in her neck, the tightness in her chest, and the sweats became worse and worse even as they administered more and more nitroglycerin and some morphine. They suspected her pain might be related to skeletal or muscular issues. No one, not even the trained medical staff, knew she was headed for a massive heart attack. It was hidden from all of us. They even let her eat a light breakfast of muffin, cereal, banana, and yogurt. She used a bedside commode after breakfast, but even that little exertion was too much for her. The pain became unbearable from then on.

They put a blood pressure cuff on her and left the room to get more nitro. As the cuff swelled, Mother said it was "blowing out" her arm, so she ripped it off and threw it on the stand. 

"Uh, oh," she said, alarmed, "I shouldn't have done that." She began moaning loudly as the pain increased. She cried out for help, so I ran out into the hall to find a nurse. There happened to be one coming out of the room next to us. Again, Mother moaned loudly and cried, "I'm dyin'!!"

She calmed down some as the nurse reattached the blood pressure cuff. At his point, my sister, Angela, showed up at the door but didn't come in because Mom's other two nurses had also come in by that time and were working with Mom.

I stepped out into the hall to let her know what was going on. They had the door shut, but we suddenly heard them calling loudly, "Connie?! Connie, can you hear me?"  

I opened the door to see Mother passed out on the bed. I heard one of them say, "I can't get a pulse." The nurse practitioner escorted me out of the room as they sent out a Code Blue alert. Doctors, nurses, and techs seemed to come from all directions converging on that room trying to get mother back again.

As I stood in the hall crying, Angela reminded me calmly, "Marcia, this could be it. We just have to accept that and be strong." I was weeping as that reality hit me. Up until then, I assumed by all the vital signs being normal they would proceed with the stress test and heart cauterisation and all would be well again. The Code Blue also summoned the hospital chaplain who greeted us and offered prayer. At that point, I called Lydia, who was at church with my husband, Les, to have them stop the service and say a prayer for Mother.

The nurse practitioner came out and told us they got her resuscitated again and that they would be moving her to ICU. She got my purse for me, and the chaplain escorted us to the family counselling room. The last time I saw Mother alive, they were rolling her past the family counsel room door. She had an oxygen mask on and was crying out, "I can't breathe!!"

Angela and I made small talk with the chaplain as we waited to see when we would be able to go back with Mom. They said for us to wait until they had her hooked up to all the equipment and got her settled into the new room.

Probably ten minutes went by when a nurse's aide came by to tell us they were going to wash her up a bit first and finish getting her settled in before they would let us come in. We continued to talk with the chaplain for quite awhile. Finally, he said he would go check on them to see what was happening. He came back to tell us they had lost and revived her again and now had her on a ventilator. She was not breathing on her own.

It took awhile, but it finally occurred to me this was not good. I called Lydia again and told her she and Les needed to get to the hospital immediately. Just after they got to the hospital, the nurse practitioner came in and told us they had lost her three more times and were working on her a fourth time at that moment, but it was not working. Did we want to come speak with her before they stopped doing CPR? Angela and I quickly followed her to Mother's side. 

She warned us on the way it was not a pretty sight, and I assured her I was prepared. But, nothing could have prepared us for what we saw. She was ashen gray, and her eyes were closed as if she were asleep. There was a ventilator tube in her mouth, and the staff were taking turns in a circuit administering CPR compressions. Angela and I leaned in close and said our last good-byes as they continued to pump her heart. But, we both knew she was already gone. My last words to her were, "I love you, Mama. Thank you for being a good Mother to us. I'll meet you on the other side."

The doctor had them stop the CPR as Angela and I wept and hugged each other. Then I felt faint and they sat me in a chair. "Nooooooooo," I cried in disbelief. "This can't be happening! I can't believe she's gone. How will I tell my poor sisters?" 

As I wept, I offered up a prayer of thanksgiving to God for His faithfulness to us and to Mother. I don't know what all I said, but it was my heart crying out to Him who had sustained us all our lives and would yet uphold us in our grief.

Les and Lydia hugged me from both sides and wept openly. When I finally gained composure, I hugged Lydia who said, "She was the best Grandma EVER!" (When I saw our son, Sam, that Friday at her visitation, he wept and said the exact same words.)

As the grief subsided, I looked around at Angela who sat next to me by the bed. We just looked at one another for a minute or so shaking our heads in disbelief. I said, "What are we gonna do now, Angie?" She shook her head, "I don't know." I said, "I suppose we'll just go on loving each other dearly as we always have." She knew what I meant. She and I have always had a very special bond.

At that point, Jonathan and his family came. Jonathan and Lydia hugged and wept bitterly together. I stopped the little ones, three-year-old Elsie and two-year-old Eden, at the door. I didn't want them to see Great Grandma that way. I asked Emily if I could explain to them what was happening, and she said I could. I told them that, even though Grandma's body was there on the bed, she was not in it. I reminded them about our Sunday school lessons about Heaven and Jesus being there. They shook their sweet heads that they remembered. I told them that when they came to Nana's house, Grandma would not be there anymore; she was gone to Heaven with Jesus. They both said, "Ooooh," as if to say, Oh, that's good. :) I then asked Emily's brother, Daniel, who had come with them, if he wouldn't mind taking the girls back to the family counsel room while we finished up. He was more than happy to do so. 

Emily and Daniel lost their own father only two years before. As I turned to her, I could see the knowing in her eyes as she firmly hugged me. She was like a pillar to me at that moment, and I drew strength from that knowing hug. I then hugged Jonathan, our big burly, tile-layer son, who wept on my shoulder like a baby. 

The chaplain asked if our pastor had arrived yet. If not, he would have prayer with us. Les said he had called him. Then someone said he was coming down the hall at that moment. As Pastor Timmerman entered the room, I could see he still had a tear on his cheek. He and the chaplain were introduced, then Pastor had prayer with us. 

As everyone filed out of the room, I went back over and kissed Mother's sweet forehead, stroked her hair, and whispered my love and said again that I would see her on the other side.

We moved through the next days in a daze of bewilderment, shock, and bone weariness. However, through prayer, I was able to get enough sleep to sustain me. Angela went with me to the funeral home. They would embalm Mother immediately in Holland, then the funeral home in Kentucky would transport her remains by hearse to Danville for the funeral.

Angela left on Tuesday, and Lydia and I went down on Wednesday. On Thursday. morning, the three of us met with the funeral director in Kentucky to make the final arrangements. Angela had promised Mother she would do her hair and make-up. To our surprise, she actually did it with a little help from the person who usually does make-up. I am so proud of her for going through with it and for doing such an excellent job. Mother came out looking like she was just taking a little snooze before heading out for church. 

There was a good showing for the visitation. Friendship Baptist Church, her childhood church, provided some cold cut sandwich fixings, snacks, and drinks for the family back in the break room. As things wound down, I was sitting near the casket reminiscing with a childhood friend of Mother's. Everyone else was back in the lounge eating and talking and laughing loudly. 

It was completely appropriate there should be eating and laughter at Mother's funeral visitation. Those things defined our family times together, and that is what she would have wanted for us. Though there were some tears, laughter played a big part in our healing.

Though there had been a storm the night before, the day of the funeral dawned with sunshine, warmth, and only a few clouds. The funeral chapel was filled for the service. I had made up programs the day before for the service. It was more like a camp meeting or revival service than a funeral memorial. It was a Homegoing Celebration, exactly what Mother wanted. I believe she would be very happy if she knew. Three preachers spoke a word, along with my uncle Sid, my cousin Eric, and our Jonathan. We sang mother's favorite hymns, and there were three music specials by her various grandchildren. The funeral director said he wished ALL families had services like ours. We did something similar three years ago when our step-father passed away, and they had never forgotten. What a blessing!

After the service, we went to the graveside in Junction City Cemetery. The clouds had gathered, it was colder, and the wind had picked up a little. But, it was appropriate for our final good-bye. 

Our cousin, Michael Southerland, invited everyone over to his restaurant (Brother's BBQ) in Stanford for the noon meal. He makes the best ribs and baked beans you've ever tasted. I sat with my cousins, Eric and Jason, and their sweet wives. Then we got some family pictures and headed for Louisville where all of our immediate family attended church service the next day with our Samuel and his family before heading back for Michigan.

I had to pick up Mother's little dog, Izzy, from the dog sitters the next day, then drop her off with the folks who were taking her to her new owner, a widowed lady near Detroit. That was much harder than I thought it would be. We had mostly just tolerated Izzy, but she is a cute, sweet, and loving dog. My last vision of her is of her peeking out at me from the carrier in their back seat as if to say, Why am I in jail? What did I do wrong that you are getting rid of me? I cried all the way home. :*( Another part of Mother was leaving us forever.*

Though I've been home for a few days now, I am still a little weary and disoriented. The grief is not constant, but comes in waves when I least expect it. But I know, by God's grace, I will weather the storm and come out the better for all I've been through. It all has a purpose, and I will trust Him for it.

The Lord gave me these verses yesterday for my comfort and His glory:

"Fear not: for I have redeemed thee,
I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine.
When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee;
and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee:
when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned;
neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.
For I am the Lord thy God,
the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour..." ~ Isaiah 43:1-3

Amen.

(*An update on Mother's little chihuahua: Izzy has settled in very well with her new owner and her special needs daughter. The daughter even lets Izzy sleep with her just as Mother did. What a blessing and comfort it is to know the Lord has even taken care of little Izzy.)