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!”

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

I am a follower of Gary DeMar (AmericanVision.org) 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. https://garydemar.com/ever-ok-lie-must-always-tell-truth/ 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 jay@thejoyfulchristian.net. 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.

NOLA.com
Bonnet Carre Spillway, I-10 West snarled from an accident that stopped traffic near I-55, from NOLA.com

“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.”

Thankful For The Thorns

FROM The Daily Encourager

Sandra felt as low as the heels of her Birkenstocks when she pulled open the florist shop door, against a November gust of wind. Her life had been as sweet as a spring breeze and then, in the fourth month of her second pregnancy, a “minor” automobile accident stole her joy. This was Thanksgiving week and the time she should have delivered their infant son. She grieved over their loss. Troubles had multiplied. Her husband’s company “threatened” to transfer his job to a new location.

Her sister had called to say that she could not come for her long awaited holiday visit. What’s worse, Sandra’s friend suggested that Sandra’s grief was a God-given path to maturity that would allow her to empathize with others who suffer. “She has no idea what I’m feeling,” thought Sandra with a shudder. “Thanksgiving? Thankful for what?” she wondered. “For a careless driver whose truck was hardly scratched when he rear-ended her? For an airbag that saved her life, but took her child’s?”

“Good afternoon, can I help you?” Sandra was startled by the approach of the shop clerk.

“I… I need an arrangement,” stammered Sandra.

“For Thanksgiving? Do you want the beautiful, but ordinary, or would you like to challenge the day with a customer favorite I call the ‘Thanksgiving Special’? I’m convinced that flowers tell stories,” she continued. “Are you looking for something that conveys ‘gratitude’ this Thanksgiving?”

“Not exactly!” Sandra blurted out. “In the last five months, everything that could go wrong has gone wrong.” Sandra regretted her outburst, and was surprised when the clerk said, “I have the perfect arrangement for you.”

Then the bell on the door rang, and the clerk greeted the new customer, “Hi, Barbara… let me get your order.” She excused herself and walked back to a small workroom, then quickly reappeared, carrying an arrangement of greenery, bows, and what appeared to be long-stemmed, thorny roses – except the ends of the rose stems were neatly snipped. There were no flowers. Continue reading “Thankful For The Thorns”

When God Restores What the Locusts Eat

“I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten – the great locust and the young locust, the other locusts and the locust swarm – My great army that I sent among you.” – Joel 2:25

There are seasons in our lives that involve times of famine and times of restoration. Solomon tells us that He has made everything beautiful in its time and that there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under Heaven. (See Ecclesiastes 3:1,11.)

God brings about both the good and the bad. The seasons of famine have a divine purpose in our lives. They accomplish things that only these hard places can accomplish. But there is a time when those hard places have accomplished their purpose and He begins to restore. God did this with the nation of Israel after a season of famine and devastation.

Be glad, O people of Zion, rejoice in the Lord your God, for He has given you the autumn rains in righteousness. He sends you abundant showers, both autumn and spring rains, as before. The threshing floors will be filled with grain; the vats will overflow with new wine and oil. “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten – the great locust and the young locust, the other locusts and the locust swarm – My great army that I sent among you. You will have plenty to eat, until you are full, and you will praise the name of the Lord your God, who has worked wonders for you; never again will My people be shamed. Then you will know that I am in Israel, that I am the Lord your God, and that there is no other; never again will My people be shamed” (Joel 2:23-27).

God wants each of us to know that there is a time when He will restore in order to demonstrate His gracious hand in our lives. He is a loving Father who tenderly guides His children through the difficult places. If God has taken you through a time of leanness, know that He is the restorer of that which the locusts have eaten. Wait patiently for Him to bring this about in your life. He will do it.

Copyright 2000 by Os Hillman
TGIF (Today God Is First)
www.marketplaceleaders.org

Contend For The Faith

“Beloved, being very eager to write to you of our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” Jude 3

Jude wrote his letter to warn churches against the influence of false teachers, a common problem in the early church and not so uncommon today. These “grumblers, malcontents, loud mouthed boasters” (v. 16) taught a perversion of grace (v. 4) and practiced a licentious lifestyle (v. 7).

In response, Jude appealed to Christians to “contend for the faith.” The word for contend is built on the word for “agony.” The stakes were high. The effort would need to be intense.

An apologist is someone who makes a defense. These early Christian apologists started a long line of intellectual inquiry and engagement that continues today. We need good Christians who will fight for the faith, define it, identify threats to it, and encourage Christians to embrace the teaching of the New Testament. They battle on behalf of the entire church body. Continue reading “Contend For The Faith”