9 years ago on October 28, I lost my beloved Mother and every year I share the following story as a tribute to her.
Mama’s Hilltop Experience
October 17, 2006 - October 28, 2012
Written by Jan Lupia in Loving Memory
In 2006 my Mother, Virginia Crowell Pritz was being released from the hospital, her doctor having determined she could no longer live at home. It was now an unsafe environment due to her chronic illnesses, complicated by dementia, and she would need full time care in a rehabilitation or nursing facility. My Daddy, Nelson and I found ourselves frantically searching for a place that would admit her. He had a list of places, but this one was full, and we couldn’t afford that one. Soon all options were gone, and we called her doctor for help. He made a phone call and within minutes everything was taken care of.
This was miraculous, and Dad and I continued to pray all the way there as this place wasn’t even on the list we had carefully prepared! Could it really be? Suddenly, as we followed the road up the steep hill, a very large white cross appeared, before Hilltop Village Nursing Home came into view. “Look at that beautiful cross Daddy” I said. Through my tears of thankfulness, I don’t remember what or if he said anything, but I found myself almost breathless as we walked into the office, filled with hope. We soon found out it was possible and after filling out paperwork, we left to do the hardest part of all, bring her back.
The next morning Dad, my sister Shelly and I returned with Mama and the small bag she had allowed us to pack. After all, according to her she would only be here for a few days while she rehabilitated. My heart was breaking just knowing that she would more than likely never live away from here again. Re- membering the pain of that day and so many after still brings tears and the familiar tightness in my throat.
After checking in at the office and being assigned a room, we headed to the dining room for coffee. A visiting cowboy was singing one of our family’s all-time favorite gospel songs,” I’ve Got a Mansion over the Hilltop.” I can hear Mama and Daddy singing the words as the four of us sat there that morning.
Months later, I returned from California to visit and could hardly wait to drive up the hill and see that beautiful, huge white cross towering over Hilltop Village. Yet it wasn’t there. I went promptly into the office and asked, “What happened to the big beautiful white cross?” thinking it had been temporarily removed to be repainted or repaired. “What cross?” the lady asked. When I found out there had never been a large white cross at Hilltop Village, I knew immediately that God had given me that vision as confirmation that this was the place where our precious Mama was to be loved and cared for. It has given me great comfort over the years to recall this story and the miracle of the white cross.
During the first 4 years at least, Mama never let us forget that she was going home, her belongings were in boxes she had collected, and Daddy was on his way to pick her up. The next day someone was giving her a ride down the hill, she had called a taxi to come get her, or she was going to hitchhike home. Another day, would we please call the doctor for her and tell him that she was ready to go home, she needed to go home and take care of Daddy, or she was going to call someone and tell them that she wasn’t supposed to be there and was being held against her will. Oh, these times were so hard, but we would encourage her that she needed to stay because they were taking care of her and everything was going to be alright. It broke our hearts repeatedly, all of us kids, as we had lost the Mom who was always in her kitchen cooking, laughing, singing and loving on us. It broke Daddy’s heart most of all, he had lost his beloved wife by his side. All his hopes of their growing old together, as they had watched his parents do, had vanished overnight. Our mourning went on and on and on …
Mama’s admission into Hilltop Village did something else. For many years, our family was torn apart in disagreement over the decision to admit her into a nursing home. So much sadness and heartache - oh Mama, we never wanted this - for you, for Daddy, for us. Eventually, the relationships began to heal as the family came to see that it had been the right decision. However, one thing I know for sure, Daddy never got over losing Mama by his side. After 7 heartbreaking years, he lost a valiant battle with cancer and was finally released to his heavenly reward on June 8, 2012.
And Mama never got over losing Daddy. Her dementia mostly affected her short-term memory, and she knew he was gone. When she forgot and asked for him, she was reminded that he was with the Lord, and who knows how much she longed to be in that place of no sorrow, pain or separation ever again. How much she longed to be with him …
Four months later, on October 22, 2012 Mama suffered a stroke severe enough that she was unresponsive and would never recover. Six days later God called her home to see Him face to face. Two sisters and I were able to be at her side every minute of those six days. We sang to her, prayed over her, combed her hair, caressed her and held her hands, all with little to no response. That is until she drew her last breath and stepped into the presence of her Savior Jesus Christ. In that moment, her chin tilted up as if she was greeting Him, her entire countenance changed, and her skin became even more beautiful, flawless and glowing as she left us. It was quiet something to behold and though we are truly heartbroken for our loss, we do not mourn as those who have no hope. In fact, we stand amazed at the immeasurable goodness of God and bless His Holy name for giving us such a beloved Mother to learn from and enjoy for so many years.
I believe that she spent time with her Savior first, loving Him for what He did on the cross to conquer death and give her, and all who call Him Lord, eternal life. Then Jesus Himself escorted her to her Mansion – specially prepared for her – where the joyous homecoming celebration would take place and she would be reunited with Daddy and all those she loved dearly who went before. Her mansion really was “just over the hilltop.”
During the days my siblings and I were at Hilltop as Mama slipped away from us, we were overwhelmed by the stories we heard and to learn just how very much she was loved. The one word used most by those who knew, loved and cared for her every day of those 6 years was “amazing.” Nurses, volunteers and staff we had never met came by her room or caught us in the hallways to tell us stories and express their sorrow at her leaving. This cannot be faked; no one forced them to share so intimately and lovingly.
All of this caused me to understand what God had done for us. You see, the enemy of our souls had us believing that Mama was sad every day of her life at Hilltop because when we talked with her or saw her, it was always about leaving that place – going home. Yet, what a tiny fraction of her time all those calls, and visits represented. In reality, God had given our Mother the desire of her heart during that time.
Psalm 37:4 says…Delight yourself in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart!
What was Mama’s greatest love, the desire of her heart? Loving on others, her husband of course and her family unconditionally, but more than that, sharing the love of Christ through the gospel! She never met a stranger she couldn’t love, and the more she could share Jesus in word, songs and actions, the merrier her countenance. When she was able, her home was full of people and the table could always seat another for dinner. No matter we were a poor house full of kids with ravenous appetites, she never worried that one little chicken roasting in the oven could feed the multitude! And it did. Often, she would come home from running errands with someone she had just met. So it could’ve been that we were rich and hired 24hr care for her to spend her last years with Daddy at home or in one of our homes. But there would never have been the opportunity for her to be surrounded by so many people, loving them, being loved in return, all while being a witness of God’s unconditional love until the day He said to her, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
I am thankful for my beautiful Mama and the lessons learned from her throughout my life, especially about loving others and the Lord above all. She inspired me to be who I am, to serve in ministry, to call this home for young mothers in crises pregnancies, Mama’s House. By the grace of God, it will forever be as warm and welcoming as I remember our home, because love lived in the home where my Mama was and love lives at Mama’s House too.