Rita Sizemore Hassell
Died November 26, 2020
It is with great sorrow that I write this obituary for one of our classmates, Rita Sizemore Hassell, who passed away this morning, November 26, 2020, Thanksgiving Day, at a hospital in Kansas City near her former home in Belton, MO. Rita had shared with me there will not be an obituary notice in the newspaper, so she had always asked that when the time came, that I write one for her to be posted on our Arlington website.
I could simply say that Rita left behind three wonderful children, Robyn, Holly and Scott and five grandchildren and that she attended Baptist Theological Seminary. Most obituaries would stop there. But those few words don’t begin to describe Rita and her incredible personal battle for life and sustenance. That’s the story her obituary deserves to tell of her.
You should know that I never met Rita in high school nor in our 55 years since we left Arlington. Yet I feel I know her better than I do my own family – so I willingly compose the obituary she asked me to write.
Many of you know that I enjoy a role in my life as a Stephen Minister. Stephen Ministry is a national non-denominational organization that trains lay leaders to be care-givers to those who are battling life’s issues. When Rita first came to me hoping to find a way to attend our class reunion in 2017, I learned of her story and felt compelled to adopt her as a Stephen Ministry client.
Unlike so many of us reading this obituary, Rita had not enjoyed a lifetime of pleasantries and good health. No, her life was one of pain and suffering, troubles and torment, agony and anguish, despair and distress. When she first contacted me, she was in need of help to recover her automobile that had been impounded for back property taxes. Without her auto, and all alone in life, she had no means of transportation to get to her many doctor visits, fill her prescriptions, get her groceries, etc. I launched a Go Fund Me campaign for Rita and our classmates contributed over $3500 to get her going once again. Many of you were generous donors – I know Rita would thank you once again, and I certainly do as well.
That blessing was short-lived. Over the next several months and with many emergency hospital visits, the diabetes that plagued her health grew progressively worse and was ravaging her body. Very overweight, walking even with assistance soon became a chore and by early 2019, she simply could no longer walk at all. Glaucoma was consuming her eyesight and all of the arrangements I was making with local doctors were failing because we couldn’t get a soul to stay with her following surgery. She lived alone in a mobile home and had no local friends to call upon for help. With her diabetes worsening, she soon lost control of her bodily functions and with that came all sorts of serious hygiene problems. Complicating her conditions, her three children were estranged and wanted no part of caring for her, they had issues and families of their own to tend to. I know this because I worked countless hours to bring the family back together. Her church abandoned her, they had no one who wanted to visit Rita’s trailer because of the hygiene issues. I know because I spent time pleading with them for support. Rita’s health worsened, she often didn’t have money nor access to purchase her insulin and other meds. I know because I battled Kansas officials who denied the many Medicaid applications I prepared for her. She suffered unsurprisingly from depression. I know because I fought the system to get her psychiatric care. For me, this went beyond the bounds of Stephen Ministry because I became her life support system from 500 miles away.
I have so many stories of the last three years of Rita’s life that I could write a book. I encountered dozens and dozens of wonderful human beings who wanted to help and often provided such great care for her – social workers, emergency technicians and doctors and nurses at probably 10 different hospitals. But always – always – the system failed her.
I spoke with Rita nearly every day for three years, often long conversations as we tried to coordinate life for her. While that was indeed often a burden that resulted in more frustrations than victories, I know that in those many phone calls, I captured the essence of a woman that I can write an obituary for.
And here's the most important part of her obituary, the part Rita would want most to read: Rita was an incredible human being. She never had the luxuries so many of us enjoy nor the health that most of us retain. And though mental depression racked her mind, she was always a gentle, humble soul who NEVER gave up on life or her God. She entrusted her life to her Creator and never complained of injustices nor her misfortunes. She always had a smiling demeanor over the phone and cherished the support I was able to give. We often prayed together and read daily devotionals that provided her with such good counsel. She was very independent, refusing nursing home assistance until the end, mistakenly confident that she could care for herself. She had a particular talent for engaging others in the hospitals -- patients, nurses, janitors, -- about their faith. She also loved her Arlington classmates and was adamant that she was going to become healthy enough to attend our next reunion. She didn’t have wealth, she didn’t didn’t have health, but she certainly had love for all mankind -- and her Arlington classmates.
In June, over Rita’s objections, I finally beat the system. I worked with one of the hospitals to get her legally assigned to guardianship to place her in a nursing home. My elation for her good fortune was short-lived. Now, just five months later, Rita becomes another victim among the myriads of nursing home COVID deaths. Once again, the system failed her. Her hospital was out of ICU beds to get her the necessary intubation she needed. She passed somewhat peacefully this morning with oxygen support.
…...but the good news, and I saved this for last. Those three estranged children? Over the course of the last year, in my communicating Rita’s issues and the developments with each of them, one-by-one they had all returned to “Mom.” Once past sins were buried, each of them were there to help to carry the load in these final months.
I got the phone call this morning at 5AM from the hospital. One daughter was there and the other two were on Facetime. One daughter, a concert violinist, played her violin for Rita and nurses were able to hold a phone for her as the children prayed with her. And just before they removed life support to let her go peacefully, Rita uttered her very last words to them, “I love you.”
Seeing and talking to those children with their newfound and boundless love – and now an unconditional love -- for their dying Mom – that is my obituary for Rita. Rita, your persistence was truly an inspiration for me and I truly admire you for that. At last, the diabetes and the depression and the many other maladies that plagued you in this life are no more, you’re in a much better place with your Maker. God bless you.
26 November 2020