Lightning Strikes

On Sunday, March 15, 1998, at just before 6pm I had stopped at the entrance of the church to let Mary Charlotte off to enter the church building. She gave me such a queer answer to a question I asked of her, that I mentioned it to our doctor, who was there. He asked her several more questions, and then told me to take her to the hospital immediately, that she was having a stroke! At the emergency ward of Cape Coral Hospital she was asked some more questions about the date, what was the President’s name, etc., which she couldn’t answer, so we were told to wait in the receiving room (filled with people waiting for emergency treatment). Over an hour later, we finally got attention, and Mary Charlotte soon disappeared into the labyrinths of the hospital. It was after 9pm when I finally got word that she had X-rays, a CAT scan, and examination by a neurologist, but nearly midnight before I saw her in the intensive care section, full of tubes and wires. One of our elders, who was a male nurse at the hospital, said he had seen the CAT scan, which had revealed a massive blood spill in the cognitive-voice center on the left side of the brain.

For the next nine days I came to the hospital three times a day. She was released from intensive care after four days, but was held until they could put a tube into her stomach (called a peg), as she didn’t pass the swallow test. I could talk to her, and she seemed to understand what I said, but I could get no sense out of her replies, beyond “Yes” or “No”, and this limitation did not change for thoughts original with her. Meanwhile, I was undergoing extensive tests myself, including ultrasound and Catscan, to see if I had a serious abdominal problem to explain my generation of copious amounts of gas. The tests were all negative, but I still have the gas problem.

When it became evident that Mary Charlotte would be released soon, I arranged for her admission to the Care Center at the Gulf Coast Village, where she stayed from March 24 to May 18. She had speech and physical therapy for that period, but when she no longer improved from physical therapy (she had made good progress toward walking with a walker unassisted), Medicare-A would no longer pay for her care center expenses. I received permission to bring her up to our apartment, and I took care of her, with considerable help from Boo Mullinax (see left), our pastor’s wife (who continued to assist in her care until her death). She continued her speech therapy until March of 1999, but never recovered the ability to express herself. She could not tell us what her problem was if she had one. We had to guess and ask until we guessed correctly.

Mary Charlotte Breaks Her Leg

We had already bought non-refundable tickets to fly to Detroit in August for our annual two weeks with Mary Jo in her Michigan summer home, and made plans to do so, as Mary Charlotte continued to be able to do more and more for herself, although needing some help with all functions. Then, at 9pm on July 7th, as I was getting her out of bed to go to the john, her left leg collapsed and she went sprawling. I could not catch her. As she indicated pain in her legs, I pulled the emergency cord for a nurse from the Care Center, and also called there on the phone. When the nurse examined her she suspected a break in her right leg, and called 911. Again I was at Cape Coral Hospital until after midnight. X-rays confirmed the break and the orthopedic surgeon forbade any physical therapy until the break was fully healed because of its location just below her right kneecap. He feared any stress there would crush her leg bone (tibia) making recovery difficult if not impossible. No physical therapy, no Medicare-A. Once again in the Care Center, now at my expense (I had insurance which provided $36 a day and a 15% discount as a GCV resident) of nearly $100 a day net. The trip to Michigan was canceled and the tickets were put on hold. We were able to use them the following year, with additional payment of $81 a person.

Right in the middle of all this was Mark’s wedding to Cristina Rizen on July 25th in Evansville IN. It was impossible for Mary Charlotte to go, but I could represent both of us, as Mary Jo offered to stay with Mary Charlotte for the three days I would be gone. The wedding was held in one of the Holiday Inn’s dining areas, as was the reception, and was very well attended. I was told that some 25 or so of Mark’s friends of both sexes came from distant places to help him celebrate this momentous event, showing his popularity with those of his own age. I was, of course, introduced to many of Cristina’s family, and enjoyed their warm hospitality, It was an auspicious occasion!

Since there appeared no foreseeable return to residency for Mary Charlotte, I was allowed to drop her from the monthly fee, saving $520 a month. I gave up our 2-bedroom apartment on August 8th for a 1-bedroom, saving a further $400 a month. Speech therapy started again the first of August, and it was apparent that Mary Charlotte had lost all of the gains of the previous months — she obviously had had another stroke. Physical therapy recommenced on September 21, her birthday, when the surgeon pronounced her break completely healed — 11 weeks after it occurred. But here also she had lost all of her previous ability to walk and had to start over to learn. My new apartment was much closer to the Care Center, and I could reach her room in just two minutes. My daily regimen was to go down to her room as she was being dressed for the day (7am or so), stay with her until her breakfast came (sometime before 8 o’clock), come again late in the morning until her lunch was served, and stay with her most of the afternoon until her dinner time, when I would go to my own dinner in the dining room. I would return and be with her until she was put to bed — any time between 7 and 8:30 as the aides got around to her room. Boo Mullinax had moved her dresser from the apartment to her room, and had hung pictures and wall paper around her half of the hospital style Care Center room, to make it as homey as possible. She and other ladies from the church came from time to time to spell me in the afternoons. Mary Jo was a great help and so was Margaret. They would come once or twice a week and help me with Mary Charlotte, particularly in the afternoons. Of course, from June to October, Mary Jo was in Michigan, and Margaret was away much of that time as well.

Mary Charlotte Breaks Her Leg — Again

Mary Charlotte continued to improve, both in speech and physical therapy, until Friday morning, November 7th. When being dressed, she complained a little of discomfort, as well as at breakfast. But when physical therapy began, the therapist, Paul, knew something was wrong, and urged the nurse in charge to have her right leg X-rayed. A portable X-ray service soon came and took the pictures and in the early afternoon confirmed a break in the right thigh bone. Once again 911 was called and this time she was taken to the Southwest General Medical Center, as the surgeon who had previously treated her leg was unavailable. I waited four hours before I could find out where she was located, and then no word about the seriousness of the break until the following day, when it was apparent that a plate would be needed, with surgery to implant it. Due to a mild virus condition, the surgery was postponed until Monday. I visited her as much as I could over the week-end and spent most of the day there on Monday. She didn’t get back to her room until nearly supper time, but everything had gone well. She came back to the Care Center on Wednesday, this time under Medicare-A again, because of the surgery. Remarkably, the experience seemed to clear her mind some, because she was suddenly able to speak in complete sentences, if the vocabulary was established by someone else. She could use words she overheard, sometimes correctly, sometimes not, but often repeated what someone in her hearing range had said, usually not to her.

Although somewhat traumatic, the improvement in speech and the coverage of Medicare-A, which lasted the full 100 days allowed, were truly sent from God, although how she broke her leg is still a mystery. The only way I can figure it is that she put her leg between the uprights on the bedside guard section, and somehow twisted it in trying to get it out. Because of the plate, I suppose, physical therapy that did not involve the right leg, was allowed, and she was soon hopping around all over the place. Again steady improvement was apparent, without the setback that was incurred at the first break, showing that this break was not occasioned by another stroke. Life went on much as it had before. Mary Charlotte didn’t react well to the singing and other programs provided for the Care Center residents, as her limited volition capacity made her attention span very short. She did not like TV, radio, tapes, and only for a short time being read to. The major way of passing the time with her was to push her around the grounds or buildings in her wheel chair. Some of the church ladies got her to sing old hymns with them from time to time, but I didn’t have that response.

Our Fourth Family Reunion September 1-3, 1998

Morgan Huff had long been working on plans for our fourth family reunion, but had considerable trouble getting an appropriate venue. He finally selected a place in Pigeon Forge TN, a resort area on the edge of the Great Smokies. We stayed in a nearby hotel, and I had the privilege of sharing a room with Chuck Cook, one of Margaret’s “cousins” by marriage. I was able to attend only by the kindness of Boo Mullinax. who stayed with Mary Charlotte the three days I was away, since Mary Jo and Margaret also wanted to attend the reunion. I won't attempt to identify the people in the big picture above, since we had individual family pictures which I show below, and I will attempt to identify the people in them. We three remaining second generation Mitchells cut our birthday cake (see left) in honor of Margaret’s 90th, my 85th and Mary Jo’s 80th birthdays.

Once again there were absences and newcomers, though it was only three years since our last reunion. My immediate family was the smallest of the lot, with only Will, Judy, Mark and Cristina to back me up.

Morgan and Evelyn represented their family. Margery and Tom had a good turnout, including Margie; Barbara and Dana Wright, with Michael and Thomas; Bill; Chuck and Patricia Ann; Mary and Yancy Garner II with Yancy III and Jonathan; Genie and Glenn LaRouche, with Nathaniel and Alexandra; and Patty and Gunnar Hempel, with Melanie.

Margaret also had a good turnout: Adele (Blake’s widow); the Shaws: Lynne, Kerry, and Jim and Rebecca, with Elliot; and the Fees: Caroline, Timothy and Cheryl, with Jennifer and Benjamin, and Michael and Susan with Austin. Also present were Margaret’s cousin Chuck Cook and Lynne’s friend Alphonse.

Mary Jo’s family was well represented, with Chuck, Glen and Alison, Alan and Valerie, Laura, and Mark; Steve and Lyn, with Graham and Colby; and Randy and Cyn, with James and Christopher. It was a jolly affair, and we were all glad we attended.

Mary Charlotte Returns to Our Apartment

While the Care Center personnel were very caring for Mary Charlotte and the other residents, they could not give her the one-on-one care she needed. Someone needed to be with her every minute she was awake, and we tried to give her that attention as far as we could. Due to frequent shift changes and other personnel changes, different aides would dress her in the morning, and since she couldn’t tell them her needs and wants, would leave off her glasses, her watch, not put on her sweater (which she wanted every morning), and other such omissions. Hence I made it a practice to visit her every morning, seven days a week, not later than 7am. On one such morning I found her sitting at the end of the bed, beyond the bed guard, trying to get up. On another occasion, she was not be be found at 7am! The night aide had said she was so restless at 4:30 that she got her up at that hour and let her go in her wheelchair into the hallway. I searched every room with an open door in the Care Center and all the hallways through the first floor of the building complex, but no Mary Charlotte! When I returned to the Care Center, one of the aides had found her in someone else’s room with the door shut. I immediately put in a request to bring her up to my apartment, so I could give her the one-on-one care that she needed. After several meetings with the “committee” that decided such things for GCV, I was allowed to make her once again an independent resident, although she did not meet the State requirement that all such people must be able to take care of themselves in case of an emergency. So on April 8th, Boo Mullinax and I moved her furnishings and clothes back upstairs, and she became my full-time responsibility.

After several turn-downs from home-nursing organizations that had been recommended, I found one that could give me help four hours a day as many days a week as needed. I started out at three days a week, as my doctor had gotten me Medicare-A’s home nursing service to provide catheter service and bathe her three times a week. With help from Boo Mullinax and later some of the college girls home for the summer, I had good coverage during the normal week days, having no such help on Saturdays and Sundays. Mary Jo and Margaret came each Saturday until Mary Jo went to Michigan. As soon as the college girls left (who received $10 an hour), I increased the professional help to seven days a week, four hours a day, even though the cost was $14.75 an hour. However, this was a lower cost than the Care Center and I was providing her one-on-one care 24 hours a day. The insurance of $18 a day continued, and I no longer had therapy for her. As the months went by, it was evident that she was deteriorating, as she was able to do less and less for herself, until by the end of the summer of 1999, she was completely helpless. Thank God for sending me caring home aides and nurses! Only one or two were coldly efficient, and they didn’t last long. There was more turnover than I was happy with, but there were only two or three times when no one showed up on a morning, and I had to get Mary Charlotte up by myself.

Another wedding demanded my attention, this time Mary Francis’ stepson Paul Aguilar, who married Carol Sawyer on May 29, 1998, in Denver. Since Paul was Roman Catholic (but Carol was not), the wedding was in the catholic church where Mary Francis and her husband Paul attended. The priest who conducted the service made the finest charge I have ever heard at a wedding to young Paul and Carol to live the Christian life and raise their children accordingly. Margaret also attended the wedding, as her daughter Lynne was in the area with her son, who was employed in a nearby skiing resort. The reception was held in the downtown Denver Marriott Hotel, where Paul worked and was a gala affair indeed.

Another May event was Mark Balch’s graduation from high school. What made this an auspicious occasion was Mark’s national recognition as an outstanding football player. His build illustrates this. He had a choice of four universities that offered him football scholarships. His proud grandmother is shown with him in this photo (see right).

When August came, we flew to Detroit with the tickets bought two years earlier. The airline treated Mary Charlotte like a queen, providing wheel chair service at every terminal. Mary Jo picked us up at the Detroit airport and we spent the next two weeks, more or less, as her guest. During that time, we all three drove to Cleveland for an overnight visit with Bob and Marilyn Baldwin (see left), and to Midland, for a one-day visit with Emily and Mike Rohde. Emily was within three weeks of Brynn Ellen‘s birth, but Mary Charlotte could see her great-granddaughter only as a bulge on Emily’s midriff.

We Are Evicted

On September 10th I was requested to attend a meeting of the “committee” that passed on independent resident qualifications, and presented with an ultimatum to get Mary Charlotte out of my apartment in 30 days. This was all legal, and as above stated, they had “bent” the State regulations in letting me have her there to begin with. They obviously expected me to put her back in the Care Center, but I told them I couldn’t do this, as the Care Center couldn’t give her the care she needed, and that I would move out. A real-estate lady in our church, Gloria Tate (who was also a city councilwoman) found me a rental on Saturday, the 19th, but I didn’t like it. Then at church Sunday morning she said she had found a first-floor condo for sale, and would I like to see it after church. One look at this place was all I needed — first floor, on a canal (not of interest to me, but of value to the property), completely (and I mean completely) furnished, and available for $64,990. I expressed my interest and went home. Consulting Mary Jo by phone, she advised making a deposit, even though I might find something more to my liking. So I called the lady and met with her in mid-afternoon (along with Mary Charlotte — I had to make sure she could get around the place in her wheel chair). The agent suggested an offer of $60,000, and a closing date of November 30th, with rental for the months of October and November, since it would take 4-6 weeks for me to get my apartment deposit back from Gulf Coast Village. On Monday the agent called to say the owner had accepted my offer, but would not guarantee anything. I had already looked the place over and tried the appliances — most of them fairly new, so that was no obstacle. Hurriedly packing, we moved out on October 1st, with the help of the Mullinaxes and six men from our church, and I have enjoyed this place many years since!

There were no complications with either the home aides or the Medicare nurses in coming to 928 SE 46th Street #1A rather than #326 Gulf Cost Village. And I had a parking place reserved for me right in front of my home! No more hunting for a parking place whenever I returned from any use of my car. But getting Mary Charlotte into and out of bed was difficult. Then one of the home aides asked me if I had requested a Hoyer lift. I hadn’t heard of it, but immediately asked my nurses to look into it for me. Soon we had a small hydraulic lift with a canvas seat that was placed under a patient and lo! one could easily hoist the patient out of bed, a wheel chair, or even off the floor. This was a real life-saver when Mary Charlotte reached the point when she was a dead weight to move. I had bought a Laz-E-Boy chair for her soon after her stroke, which she had used occasionally, and which I slept in the nights when she got into a talking mood for several hours. We brought that chair to the condo, and I have slept in it every night I’ve had it — it’s great!

On December 12th, when I left the room for two minutes to get something from the bathroom, Mary Charlotte rolled out of bed and landed on her face on the floor! I called the nurse’s emergency number and was advised to take her to Cape Coral Hospital for a check-up. This was done, with the only result a big bill for Medicare and Blue Cross to pay. She was bruised but not otherwise hurt.

Mary Charlotte “Stubs” Her Toes

On December 17th, at a little after 5pm, Mary Jo was pushing Mary Charlotte around our “block” in her wheel chair, when she dropped her pillow. Reaching down to pick it up, Mary Jo was horrified to see Mary Charlotte’s right foot a mass of blood! She had slipped her foot off the footrest, and allowed it to drag on the concrete, rubbing all the skin off the end of all five toes. Fortunately she was only a half block away, and rushed her home. We cleaned up the mess as well as we could and then got her into the car for yet another visit to Cape Coral Hospital’s emergency clinic. Four hours later we returned with the toes bandaged up and instructions to get proper medical attention as soon as possible. Why she didn’t give any sign of the accident, we can’t understand, as she definitely reacted to the nurse who treated the wounds. We couldn’t get her treated at the Southwest General Wound Treatment Center until the 21st, where the attending physician said only one toe was seriously damaged, but all five needed to be dressed twice a day for two weeks. Again Medicare-A provided the nursing care for this expensive treatment, and I’ve never been billed for a cent of it. At a second visit two weeks later, the surgeon said the toes were healing nicely but continued the twice-a-day treatment. He had prescribed a potent antibiotic which ran out two days after this second visit, but which he didn’t renew.

Mary Charlotte’s Final Hours

Margaret and Mary Jo arrived on schedule Saturday morning January 8th. The morning nurse reported a temperature of 104 degrees for Mary Charlotte, and the home aide said she wouldn’t eat or drink. I called our doctor, who thought she was perhaps reacting to the withdrawal of the antibiotic, and prescribed another ten capsules, which I hurriedly got. We also got fever reducing suppositories for her, but the fever persisted all day and into the night. She had been suffering from bed-sores for several weeks, and we couldn’t leave her in one position for more than two hours. Each night I had to shift her in the bed every two hours. We gave her her medicine and left her to sleep at a little after 10pm. Mary Jo and Margaret had offered to stay overnight, for which I was very grateful. At about 1:30am I awoke and went in to Mary Charlotte’s room to shift her, but she was quite cold to the touch. I awakened Mary Jo and she felt her pulse — none. She must have died soon after we left her at 10:30. Not knowing just what to do I went back to my chair, but soon realized that I had to take action. I called Dr. Gladding (see left) who had told me to do so if needed, and he told me to call the nursing agency, who in turn told me to call 911. In less than 5 minutes a policeman came to the door and a few minutes later a fire truck and an ambulance. I didn’t want them to take her to a hospital, so suggested the leader call Dr. Gladding, who assured him that he would sign a death certificate of natural causes. Since the afternoon nurse had left a message indicating her critical condition, the 911 man agreed that nothing would be gained by taking her to a hospital, so he called the mortuary I recommended and they came an hour later and removed the body. Later that morning I spent two hours in the mortuary, where I had to finalize all arrangements. We would have her cremated — no viewing, and a church memorial service later in the week. I had called Will and Mary Francis during the night and they said they would come as soon as they could. We arranged the memorial service for Thursday, and it was attended by all my immediate family, including Morgan and Evelyn, as well as some friends from Gulf Coast Village. Of course, many from our church attended. Will was the spokesman for the family, and he gave a beautiful eulogy for his mother, both moving and, in places, humorous.

As I look back on this period of nearly two years, I wonder how I could have coped without the very considerable help of two ladies — my sister Mary Jo (see left) and Boo Mullinax (see right) — I do not believe I could have made it. Many other people contributed, but none as often and as effectively as those two. My undying thanks to them both!

The Memorial Service


September 2l, 1916--January 9, 2000

Memorial Service - Evangelical Presbyterian Church
4:00 P.M. January 13, 2000

Call to Worship . . . . . . Psalm 121
Pastor: I lift up my eyes to the hills. From whence does my help come?
People: My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
Pastor: He will not let your foot be moved, he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
People: The Lord is your keeper, the Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not smite you by day, nor the moon by night.
Pastor: The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.
People: The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this thue forth and for evermore.

Hymn of Trust (#629) “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”

Prayer of Adoration and Confession . . . Amen

Scripture Reading . . . Selections

Congregational Hymn of Praise (#172) “Let Us Love and Sing and Wonder”

Personal Remembrances

Homily . . . Psalm 23

Prayer of Thanksgiving and Lord’s Prayer . . . Amen

Hymn of Consolation and Praise (#600) “He Leadeth Me”



After the service, the family will receive friends in the Fellowship hall.


On Sunday morning, January 2000, Mary Charlotte was called to her eternal home. Born September 21, 1916 in City Point, Virginia, she was a graduate of Mary Washington College (VA) in 1937. Mary Charlotte and her family were active in churches on both coasts of the United States and in South Africa. Coming from Homestead (FL) to Cape Coral in 1989, she was a faithful member of Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Cape Coral.

Mary Charlotte is survived by her loving husband of 63 years, Herbert; son William Montgomery (wife Judy) Mitchell of Shreveport, LA; daughter Mary Francis (husband Paul) Aguilar of Denver, CO; two grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

A gifted woman, avid gardener, faithful letter writer, and traveler extraordinary, Mary Charlotte was a student, especially of the Scriptures, probing their mysteries, discussing their implications. A lover of all that was beautiful, in thought and word, in note and tone, in form and color, she was an advocate for Christian missions, enthusiastic, generous and articulate in their importance. A worthy wife and mother, jealous that her family, like herself, would walk in truth; she was a herald of grace, quick to confess that all her gifts and graces — which were many — earned her nothing with God. Forerunner now to the heavenly regions, gazing firsthand at the glory of the Redeemed she loved, and loved to proclaim.

Participants in the service:
Rev. Eric Mullinax
Rev. Randy Lovelace
Mrs. Paula Valkenburg
Memorial contributions may be made to HAFF
(Haitian American Friendship Foundation)

We Bury Mary Charlotte’s Ashes

At the time of my consultation with the undertaker on January 9 I had purchased an urn in which to bury Mary Charlotte’s ashes. She had wanted to be buried beside her mother’s grave in Palmetto Cemetery, a private burial ground near Lewisburg TN (managed by her cousin Thomas Montgomery). When his sickness prevented us from doing this in late January, we set March 3 as the burial date, and invited family from both sides to participate. Mary Jo offered to drive me up to Tennessee, and Thomas had invited us to spend the night before at his home.

Will, Judy, Mark and Cristina (the last three are shown in the picture to the right) all came, as well as Mary Charlotte’s cousin Bill Phillips and his wife lnge. Thomas and his wife Tina prepared a sumptuous luncheon for all of us. So even though it was a sad occasion, as we were forcefully reminded of her departure, it was nevertheless heart-warming to have so many relatives there.

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