The Hardest Thing I Have Ever Done

“Mr. Culotta, your mother is non-responsive and I need to know if you want me to perform CPR?”

“No doctor, I don’t want you pounding on her chest, she has suffered enough and it is time for her to finally have some peace.”

And with those few words, I had to prepare myself to do the hardest thing I have ever done, to tell my father that his bride of 61+ years was gone and would not be coming home.

I got down on my knees and actually thanked God for finally ending my mother’s suffering that she had endured since a stroke two years prior in 2001 had paralyzed her on one side of her body. She had been unable to take any solid food or drink for over two years and had been kept alive by a feeding tube in her stomach. I could write an entire article about what I learned about feeding tubes and how they can be misused (and were).

My mother only a few months before her stroke in 2001.

It was about 9:00 on Friday morning, June 20, 2003, and my mother had been in the hospital for about a week. Ironically she was supposed to be discharged later that day.

The doctor called me to tell me that while the nurses were preparing the paperwork to discharge my mother, they turned around and just that quickly, she was gone. He wanted to know if I wanted them to try and resuscitate her, but she had a DNR order and she was already so frail and weak that I could not bear the images of them pounding on her chest, breaking ribs to force blood circulation and try and get her heart to start again. Even now, I can’t bear the images in my mind of what she had wasted away to become, from the beautiful, vibrant woman who loved life and enjoyed people and socializing to an invalid who could barely speak and whose main method of communication was by banging her wedding band on the railing of the hospital bed that we had bought for her.

Thankfully my parents had the resources to afford the 24/7 care that she needed with nursing assistants, the electrical pump for the feeding tube that was inserted in her stomach and other numerous medical supplies, including that hospital bed.

The master suite of my parents home was large enough to accommodate the hospital bed and the medical supplies and a sitting area for the caregivers who so lovingly took care of my mother over those two years.

I don’t remember how many times she had been in and out of the hospital over those two years because of pneumonia, infections or her heart problems (she also had atrial fibrillation) but it was hard transporting her because she needed a wheelchair and we had only recently bought a mini-van that was fitted for a handicap ramp and chair-lift. She never got to use that van.

I also prayed that God would give me the strength to say the right words to my dad and to be able to comfort him because he had Alzheimer’s and although he still was physically strong and healthy at 89, his mental faculties were not what they used to be. The nurse assistants/caregivers that we had for my mother at home were doing double duty helping to take care of my dad in helping prepare his meals, driving him around and making sure he took his meds.

I called my sister, Richelle, and we agreed to meet at our dad’s home to deliver the news around 11:00. It was almost an hour drive from my apartment in Kenner to Treasure Isle and almost 40 minutes from my sister’s home in Metairie to Treasure Isle.

Next, I called my dad’s house to inform Staci, the nursing assistant, of the news of my mother’s passing and to make sure she did not tell my dad or drive him to Northshore Regional Medical Center until Richelle and I got there and told him the news ourselves.

As I drove over the I-10 twin span over Lake Pontchartrain, I could just picture my dad breaking down when he heard the news and that would be harder than anything to witness. My parents had grown much closer later in life since they sold the house in Old Metairie and moved permanently to the summer home at 45 Treasure Isle and then later built the dream home at 27 Treasure Isle, my parents’ pride and joy. My dad was a workaholic for most of his life until he “retired” in the mid-90s and stopped commuting every day to the office in Metairie.

Richelle and I drove up at just about the same time and as I put my key in the heavy, leaded-glass door and opened it, I was filled with dread once again. I stepped onto the marble floor and closed the door behind me and we began to walk up the winding stairs. The foyer almost always had this musty smell to it because there was not much circulation and that day was no exception. Even though it has been almost 15 years, I can still feel the sights and smells as if they were happening right now.

I stepped off the last step onto the wooden floor and there was my dad in what seemed an unusually good mood. “Good morning, son. What are you and Richelle doing here? I was just about to leave to go visit your mama at the hospital. She’s supposed to come home today.”

“Daddy, Richelle and I need to talk to you. Let’s go sit on the sofa.”

“Can’t it wait? I slept late today and I want to get to the hospital before it gets any later.”

“Let’s go sit down and talk first.” So we all went over to the large sofa and I sat on one side and Richelle on the other side of him.

I took some deep breaths and prayed I would not break down before getting out what I needed to say. “Daddy, we have some bad news. The doctor called me earlier to tell me that Mother passed away this morning. She just did not have any more strength in her to keep fighting these infections.”

“Oh no, what am I going to do without my mama! My mama!”

My mother’s name was Jeanne but in the later years, my dad had called her “my mama” and it was not because of his Alzheimer’s. It was his term of endearment for her.

Richelle and I just held him while we all wept and I don’t remember for how long, but surprisingly he recovered rather quickly. I think he knew it was her time to go and that she was resting peacefully now.

I was praying silently and thanking God that it had not turned out as badly as I had imagined it would and that she was no longer suffering from the stroke that had reduced her to a pale, frail, bed-ridden invalid two years earlier and that now she was free.

We sat and talked, reminisced and occasionally broke down for about a half hour after that and then we all drove to the hospital to see my mother for the final time before the funeral four days later.

I can’t imagine what it was like to suddenly know that you would never again see someone you had loved for over 61 years. I couldn’t bear to let my dad be alone with his memories in that big house either at night, so I stayed with him for almost two weeks, sleeping on the sofa in the great room, which was right next to the master suite.

Even though there were plenty of beds on the third floor, I didn’t want to be too far away from his bedroom if he needed me in the middle of the night. The house was so big that I might never hear him while I was sleeping in one of the 3½ bedrooms on the third floor. Even though he slept like a log once he went to sleep, I was also nervous that he might hear a noise in the middle of the night and go downstairs to investigate and possibly fall down the stairs.

Your mind can play all kinds of nasty tricks on you at times like this, so I felt it better to play it safe and I was glad I did. It gave us time to spend together, to talk, and even though I don’t remember many specifics about our conversations, I do remember that they were enjoyable and that I learned things I didn’t know before about how my parents met, more about how many times my dad had asked my mother to marry him before she finally said yes (over a dozen!) and the story about the meatballs, that I had heard dozens of times and still never got tired of hearing.

Mother did not know how to cook when they first got married and my dad did. After all, he was an Italian with a Sicilian mama and three sisters. So he did his best to teach her how to cook and one of the first things he taught her, naturally, was to cook meatballs.

One weekend they went on a picnic in City Park and my mother was thrilled to show off her new cooking skills. They spread out the blanket, sat down and my dad couldn’t wait to sink his teeth into one of those tasty meatballs.

The garlic, onions and anise aroma was so inviting, so he grabbed one and pulled it up to his mouth to take a bite. But when he did, it was so tough that he couldn’t bite into it and that’s when his Italian temper took over. He took that meatball and threw it like a baseball and when it hit the ground instead of exploding into a bunch of little meaty pieces, it just bounced and bounced and bounced …

But the lessons were not in vain as my mother did turn out to be a fantastic cook and the hundreds of people who attended my parents’ annual 4th of July party on Treasure Isle over the years will attest to that.

I was so glad to have had that time with him because shortly afterward, my dad’s Alzheimer’s began progressing at an increased rate and he had some behavioral changes that were not pleasant.

But maybe that is for a future installment of The Joyful Christian’s Journey.



The Sailor’s Decision

FROM The Daily Encourager

After a few of the usual Sunday evening hymns, the church’s pastor once again slowly stood up, walked over to the pulpit, and gave a very brief introduction of his childhood friend. With that, an elderly man stepped up to the pulpit to speak, “A father, his son, and a friend of his son were sailing off the Pacific Coast,” he began, “when a fast approaching storm blocked any attempt to get back to shore. The waves were so high, that even though the father was an experienced sailor, he could not keep the boat upright, and the three were swept into the ocean.”

The old man hesitated for a moment, making eye contact with two teenagers who were, for the first time since the service began, looking somewhat interested in his story. He continued, “Grabbing a rescue line, the father had to make the most excruciating decision of his life….to which boy he would throw the other end of the line. He only had seconds to make the decision.

The father knew that his son was a Christian, and he also knew that his son’s friend was not. The agony of his decision could not be matched by the torrent of waves. As the father yelled out, ‘I love you, son! Continue reading “The Sailor’s Decision”

Alzheimer’s Disease is Hard on Everyone in a Family, Not Just the Patient!

My father passed away from Alzheimer’s Disease in January 2013 after suffering the effects as early as the late 1990s. The effects were subtle and no one in my family really noticed but me, because I worked with him every day. Those of you who have relatives or friends that suffer from this insidious disease know that some people get very good at covering up their dementia, at least in the beginning.

James J. Culotta circa 1963

He was a tremendously vibrant man who was self-taught and self-made, not knowing how to slow down except on the weekends when he would suddenly become Jimmy the fisherman. I have some amazing, funny and slightly embarrassing stories about his fishing escapades. But one thing he didn’t do was tell tall tales about the one that got away!

My mother only a few months before her stroke in 2001.

Anyway, after suffering for two years from the effects of a devastating stroke that left her paralyzed on one side of her body and requiring care 24/7, my mother passed away in June 2003 and my dad went downhill really fast. Thank the Lord that my father had been able to build an amazing family business with income that allowed us to have nursing assistants to care for her in her own home where she felt as comfortable as she could be under the circumstances.

I think the hardest thing I ever had to do was to tell my dad that my mother had passed away. She had been in the hospital at the time and it was the first morning that he had not gone to visit her. I will write about that story another time because it is compelling.

He and my mother had been married for over 61 years and she had been his primary caregiver. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Hurricane Katrina hit and destroyed their home two years later in August 2005.

Before and after photo of my parents’ home on Treasure Isle on Lake Pontchartrain, Slidell, LA after Hurricane Katrina destroyed it in August 2005. This house was my Dad’s dream home. He was a builder and it was nearly 6,000 s.f. living area and 10,000 s.f. under roof.

At that point, my sister and I had no choice but to put my dad in assisted living because he was simply unable to care for himself, but the nearest facility that had an available room that was decent was over 200 miles away in Alexandria, LA, so we moved him there with nothing but the clothes he had been able to take with him before evacuating.  Continue reading “Alzheimer’s Disease is Hard on Everyone in a Family, Not Just the Patient!”

Whatever Happened To Keeping One’s Word Because It Is The Right Thing To Do?

Whatever happened to keeping one’s word, simply because it is the right thing to do?

In today’s climate of trashy television, When Calls The Heart on the Hallmark Channel is a very refreshing show and last Sunday’s episode centered around the railroad’s refusal to honor its contract to construct a depot in Hope Valley because it did not seem to be a profitable investment.

Well, after the mayor and townspeople made their case, the railroad representative wasn’t convinced until one of the young people made a convincing argument at the end. It was heartwarming and genuine, based on principles and honor, not money and profit.

Sometimes it is hard to do the right thing and it costs some serious money and requires hard sacrifices to do so.

A young builder and his partner wanted to get a start building new homes for sale in a really hot market in the early 1980s in an exclusive development that featured a beautiful golf course, clubhouse, condos, and luxury single-family homes in a gated community.

They bought a lot, the young builder designed the home and drew the plans himself, the partner put up the cash (about $35,000) and they got a local bank to fund the construction loan. The home was beautiful and everyone thought it would sell before it was even finished like most of the houses had in that location. However, right before they closed on the lot, someone suggested they buy another lot on the golf course and not the one they had previously been shown. Everyone agreed this was the right thing to do. The only problem was that no one realized at the time the design was wrong for a home that backed up to the golf course.

Only after the house was sold did anyone ever point out that the great-room should have overlooked the golf course, which makes sense of course, but the original lot backed up to woods and that is why the design had the master bedroom and breakfast room in the rear.

The young builder worked very hard to make sure that everything was done just right and every day, he drove over an hour to get to work and over an hour to get home after supervising the various subcontractors.

He even did some of the work himself, including all the finish carpentry. But after the house was nearly finished there were no buyers and the interest payments were beginning to get hard to make because there were some cost overruns due to some changes that were suggested by the real estate agent. Keep in mind that this was during the time of super-inflation and interest rates were around 14% or more.

Soon the cash reserves were almost gone and the bank became very concerned because the construction loan term was about to end and there were no prospects. Things looked very bleak and it looked like it was going to cost another $30,000+ to finish the house, so work was basically stopped. The house was built, just not 100% finished.

Months went by and it appeared bankruptcy was the only option until one day about a week before Christmas the banker called the young builder and said he had a buyer for the house. The builder was thrilled! But it wasn’t good news because the price was for what the bank was owed, which meant the partners would lose their investment plus the amount of money needed to complete the house and pay all the remaining bills, a total of about $65,000 LOSS!

The young builder was very worried. He had only recently been married and had a new baby and did not have anywhere close to that amount of money in savings. Most of the subcontractors and suppliers that he used were companies and people that he had known for many years, some for decades since some were personal friends as well, and he was afraid of damaging those relationships. Another thing that complicated this was that he also worked with and for his father, who was a builder/developer with an excellent reputation.

The banker insisted that the partners accept this offer, threatening to foreclose if they did not. But since the house still needed some work to be finished and bills to be paid, if there were any liens filed by subcontractors or suppliers, the sale could be delayed.

So the young builder decided to contact all the people he owed money to and promised each and everyone that if they would help him and allow the sale to go through without any liens, he would personally guarantee payment, no matter what. Because he had a good relationship with all these people, they agreed and the sale went through.

The young builder had a rough time though and it took over two years to finally pay off all the subs and suppliers, but he did and he continued to do business with all of them for many years afterward.

This might sound like a fictional story, but I assure you, it is not because I am that young builder, and my partner was my brother-in-law. And I have not retold this story to try and build myself up, but to tell you that when you treat people honestly and keep your word, they will do the same.

There was no way that I could knowingly or willingly damage the relationships with subcontractors and suppliers that my father had with some people, that in some cases had existed for decades. Those people trusted my word because of the past relationship I had with them and I was not about to let them down.

I don’t know how I did it. Well, actually I do. It was God and only God that kept me going.

“Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.
Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.”—Isaiah 40:28–31 ESV

Is It Ever OK to Lie? Must We Always Tell the Truth?

I am a follower of Gary DeMar ( and have many of his books and DVDs on various topics dealing with Christianity. I met Gary around 2004-2005 at an American Vision Conference (when he was still the president) in Powder Springs, GA and my life has never been the same. The list of speakers that I heard included Dr. Gary North, Dr. Voddie Baucham, Jr., Joseph Farah, and of course Gary DeMar himself. The reason I mention this is that sometimes you hear or read something that challenges long-held beliefs and that conference began a 6-7 year process that radically changed a lot of my beliefs about the end-times and prophecy. More on that in the future. But this article was also one of those moments. I always believed that we should not lie. After all the Bible commands it, right? Well, not so fast!

(Click the link to read the article and it will open up in a new tab. Then come back to finish reading here.)

This is just another reason why Christianity and the Bible are valid because it is God’s story of how He has revealed Himself to us and how we have responded, warts and all. It is not the fairy tale that many try and tell you where all of God’s “heroes” never do anything wrong, never make mistakes. We ALL have sinned and fall short of the Glory of the Lord, and we ALL need the Savior, Jesus Christ. If you are not confident about your eternal destiny and need to know the Gospel (Good News) of Jesus, please leave a comment below (your email will not be displayed) or send me an email to I truly care!

Prayer Does Work – Jen’s Story

“Daddy, my car broke down on the Bonnet Carré spillway and I don’t know what to do!”

I could hear the terror in Jen’s voice and the roar of the cars and big rigs racing past her at 60+ miles per hour on a Friday afternoon in heavy traffic on I-10 west. She was headed to Baton Rouge. Those of you familiar with the New Orleans area know how intense traffic can be on I-10 headed towards Laplace from Kenner on the spillway in the late afternoon after work, but it is a whole other story on Friday when people are headed to Baton Rouge, especially when the LSU Tigers are playing. I told her to put her emergency flashers on (she already had) and to get out the passenger side and walk about 3-4 car lengths in front of her car, in case someone slammed into her in the rear.
Bonnet Carre Spillway, I-10 West snarled from an accident that stopped traffic near I-55, from

“But Daddy, I can’t because all the cars are passing on my passenger side!” Now, I am getting terrified because the shoulder on the left side of this stretch of I-10 is not a full car width like on the right side and I am hoping that she cannot sense the fear in my voice as I try to remain calm and guide her. Continue reading “Prayer Does Work – Jen’s Story”

The Impact of One Faithful Witness

Jesus said, “You are to go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone, everywhere.” (Mark 16;15)

Many of you have read the story about a Sunday School teacher named Edward Kimball.  Mr. Kimball was a timid shoe salesman who gathered the nerve to share the gospel with a co-worker named Dwight.L. Moody.  D.L. Moody made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ and went on to become one of the greatest evangelists in history.

Do you know the rest of the story?  D.L. Moody went to England and worked a profound change in the ministry of F.B. Meyer.  F.B. Meyer, with his new evangelistic fervor, influenced a college student named J. Wilbur Chapman. Chapman accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior, and employed a converted baseball player in his ministry named Billy Sunday.  Billy Sunday became the greatest evangelist of his generation. Continue reading “The Impact of One Faithful Witness”

Safety. Always.

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I am doing research for a book I am writing and ran across this today. It is packed with lessons we can learn, but two of them I hope you will glean from this story is to SLOW DOWN and BE MORE CAREFUL.

How many times have we read tragic news stories of young children being run over by their own parents or relatives who were too much in a hurry to check if anyone or anything (pets, etc.) were around their vehicle before backing out the garage or driveway?

How many times have we read of multi-car pileups because people were following too closely simply because they could not take another few SECONDS to get to work or wherever they were going?

Do you REALLY believe that you are that super driver that can navigate in the blinding snowstorm or rainstorm when MILLIONS of others have proven they cannot?


Continue reading “Safety. Always.”

If I did this today, I would probably be shot!

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While attending Tulane University in the early 1970s, I had a part-time job at First Homestead, a savings and loan located on the corner of Baronne St. and Gravier St. in the CBD of New Orleans.
My primary job was as a gopher and office boy to assist Peter, an elderly gentleman who was one of the kindest, friendliest men I had ever had to pleasure to know.
Every day we arrived before everyone else to open the door and greet the other employees as they arrived and to stand guard at the entrance. This was before armed guards were necessary, even though there were occasional, but rare robberies.
For me, this was especially enjoyable since I was young, single and it allowed me to watch all the attractive young ladies that walked by on their way to work.
Our duties included opening the mail and distributing it to the appropriate parties, collecting outgoing mail and preparing it properly to deliver to the Post Office each day by weighing and applying the correct postage with the Pitney Bowes postage meter, keeping the employee kitchen neat and tidy, making coffee, general janitorial work during the day if necessary until the cleaning crew arrived after hours (including unstopping toilets), purchasing the office supplies and keeping the storeroom organized, running errands for all the other employees, delivering legal documents to the various attorneys’ offices, etc.
However, our most important job each day was to take the daily deposits to the appropriate banks, such as the Whitney, Hibernia, NBC to name a few. They were all within a few blocks, all within walking distance. Continue reading “If I did this today, I would probably be shot!”

If God Really Exists Why Doesn’t He Speak To Us?

How may times have we heard this objection to the Gospel of Jesus Christ? “If God really exists, then why doesn’t He speak to us?”

Or another version of this is “I will believe in Heaven if someone who has died and gone there comes back and tells us what it is like.”

Well folks, guess what, both of these things happened and the same person has fulfilled both of these requests—Jesus, the Son of God literally spoke to us for over three years during his ministry on earth over 2,000 years ago and His Words are forever preserved in our Bibles.

Furthermore, not only did He come down from His place in Heaven to be born as a human being and become one of us, but He was mercilessly beaten, crucified and died on a cruel Cross before He went back to Heaven to present His body as a perfect and final sacrifice for all of us to His Father for OUR sins, not His.

I did not write this short article to be a theological explanation of why Jesus died in our place, why He became the perfect and final sacrifice for the daily and annual sacrifices offered to God to atone for sins. There are plenty of articles and books written on this subject that explain it far better than I ever could. Continue reading “If God Really Exists Why Doesn’t He Speak To Us?”