Most of us are aware that on Thursday, April 27, 2023, our beloved Rita Echols passed away. What you may not know are the circumstances surrounding her passing. What follows is hopefully clarification of any thoughts on why this happened.
Rita was born in 1930 and raised in Amsterdam, NY. She attended Julliard in New York City where she perfected her singing and acting skills. Appearances in Broadway plays, touring the country singing at major hotels, guest appearances in the Latin Quarter, and television commercials preceded starring roles on the Kate Smith Show in the mid-l 950s as part of the Katydids.
After six years in Beirut with her husband and a return to the states, Rita pursued her master's degree in Education at the age of forty-five. Upon graduation she began a successful career as an instructor for special needs students in Florida. Several letters of accommodation attest to the value she brought to the students during her career.
It was during her marriage to Ralph that Rita became care giver in addition to her teaching duties at school. This new role emphasized the stress and time required to attend to the needs of another. Ralph passed on and after a couple of years Rita married Joe. In a few years he also died. Rita had also begun to experience health issues. She had both a pacemaker and a defibrillator implanted. These "care giver" devices made her existence totally dependent on them. Operations were required to replace batteries nearing the end of their projected life.
Eventually Rita decided being a single homeowner in her mid-eighties was not what she wanted. Her decision to retire to an independent living community seemed to be the next logical step. That choice did not last long when the community required all residents to be in assisted living. She then took up residence at Goose Creek Apartments.
She continued to visit friends at the assisted living facility and, to be expected, that circle of friends grew smaller and smaller. She also began to see the realities of assisted living versus the marketing hype. Call buttons were not answered promptly. Staff skills deteriorated as employees left the field and were replaced by less qualified personnel. Residents had less freedom and became more dependent on the facility. The pandemic only made these short comings more apparent while adding new ones.
Rita thought long about how she wanted her final time on earth to be. Having someone attend to her every need as she had done was not what she wanted to happen. She desired to live life to its fullest extent given her age and when that was no longer possible have the pacemaker turned off. She consulted with doctors, family, and friends. A check by the pacemaker company in 2021 indicated that seven years of battery life remained. Legal documents were drawn up that gave permission for the pacemaker to be turned off at her request.
Since that time Rita and I have been living a full life. A cruise to Alaska, a trip to her former home in Waynesville, NC with a stay at the Omni Grove Park, touring the Shenandoah Valley, dining at some of the best restaurants, attending a play at the Black Friars in Staunton and many other outings have all played a part in adding quality to our senior life. We enjoyed much laughter, conversations on many topics, listening to "Alexa", watching movies (a few did not add to quality of life), holding hands and just being there for each other.
One trip did not go well. A week-long plan to visit Vermont in the fall of 2021 was cut short in Troy, NY. Getting ready to meet her brother John for breakfast, Rita experienced a fall which required a one day stay at the local hospital emergency room. That experience brought to light shortcomings hospitals are having while the pandemic persists. Staff shortages and experience levels seemed to mirror what she saw at assisted living.
No reason for the fall was ever given. Rita has had a couple of mini strokes in the past. She had also experienced some balancing issues. Stairs had become more challenging. Hearing loss was her dominate concern. Ill fitting hearing aids, constant battery changes, and problems with volume adjustment all impacted her quality of life.
Simply put, Rita decided that it was now time. The hospice stay was made, and the pacemaker was stopped. We will all miss her.
A message from Rita:
"Today, April 27, 2023, I chose to turn my pacer off after 24 years of pacer dependence. My decision is not based on despair. I chose to leave in command of my faculties and when I am enjoying life.
I was born during the great depression, February 8, 1930, to my mother Virginia Willoughby Noble and father, Alfred Noble.
I am predeceased by my sister, Marylou Richards, I am predeceased by my husbands, Dwight Knox, Ralph Billet, and Joseph Echols
I say goodbye to my family in Virginia to my son, Darcy Knox and wife, Kasey Knox. I say goodbye to my grandson, Donald Knox and his wife ,Ashley, and to adorable Macie. I say goodbye to my grandson, Bradley Knox and his fiance, Lexi Caricofe.
I say goodbye to my children in Florida, my daughter, Mia Docken and husband, Brian Docken, to my granddaughter, Jennifer Wickham and my wonderful great grandchildren, Connor Wickham and Kayla Wickham.
I say goodbye to my brother, John Noble, and his wife, Cindy.
I say goodbye to my nieces and nephews and family everywhere. I say goodbye to all my friends, especially my coffee club group. I love you all.
I say goodbye to my companion the last seven months, Ken Paulsen, who has filled my life with joy, laughter, and love.
I say goodbye to this glorious planet that God has given me the privilege to inhabit. I say goodbye to the mountains, oceans and "All creatures great and small".
To send flowers