"Stepping into the light
Out of the darkness
Out of the void and out of the pain
Into a new place
Out of the rat race
Out of the darkness, and into the light."
Into the Light
© Michael Buffalo Smith, ASCAP
I found myself sitting in the front pew at the first church my sister Patsy and I ever attended - Tucapau Baptist Church in Startex, SC. The series of events over the past few weeks had left me in a bit of shock. On top of losing my one and only sibling, I had experienced my first auto accident since 1977 on June 23, the day before my birthday, and my old faithful Honda CRV had been totalled. But even with the pain from the wreck and the lack of transportation, nothing occupied my mind more than my sister.
We were members of Tucapau Baptist Church all through our childhood years, and often spoke about the memories of attending here. Rev. Irwin was pastor then. I spent a great deal of time outside the church - getting tapped on the legs by a hickory stick at the hands of my sweet little mother, who knew I deserved
a whoppin, but never had the heart to spank me hard enough to hurt. Of course Patsy never got a spanking that I know of. There was a good reason for that. She never did anything to deserve one.
Most of my Mom’s family were members at Tucapau too. When my Dad changed jobs, we started going to Mt. Zion in Spartanburg, where we were members for many years. Then recently my sister told me that she was attending services in Startex again. Full circle. So it seemd more than appropriate to me that we had her memorial service in that old church.
Patsy had been sick her whole life, yet she never failed to share a smile, and would stop and talk to complete strangers, often times making their day a little brighter. She was quick to use the words “Bless you” and “sweetie.” I loved that.
I went through several years where I was living in Greenville, as well as other states, and didn’t get to see her or talk as much as I would have liked, but there was no doubt about our love for one another. We walked through fire together on more than one occasion. God has a unique way of giving us just what we need, just when we need it most. When I moved back home to Spartanburg one year ago this month, Patsy and I really got even closer than we already were. We would talk on the phone for hours , sometimes until 3 AM. We would laugh, we would cry, and every single time we would say I LOVE YOU. No therapist anywhere could ever reach the level of openness that she and I reached over the past year. For that I am eternally grateful.
As I stood by her bedside at Restorative Care holding her hand on Tuesday, June 19, my mind was racing. I was thinking of a month or so earlier when she had been in a bad way at that very same hospital. I was so afraid we were going to loose her that time as well. I prayed and prayed, as did many others. And she recovered and came home for a while. During that time I saw her several days a week, and we started talking about taking a vacation together, just brother and sister, down to one of the beaches. She loved the beach.
Then before we knew it she was back in the hospital. She began going downhill. They put her back on the respirator. I had done a benefit concert on May 25, and after it was over I got a text from her daughter Kelly saying that her mom wasn’t expected to live through the night. But she did. My sister was as much a fighter as Ali or Foreman. She came through it, and began to improve again, but it was short lived.
One weekend they told Kelly and I that she was unresponsive and that they had done all that they could and that we should probably just cease life support. I said no, I thought she would come back around. And at 2 AM that night, she did. She was answering questions yes and no by nodding her head. Over the next few days, I was there every day. She couldn’t speak because her throat was so sore, but she smiled a lot and listened to me talk to her. I was so happy I had a chance to really let her know how much I loved her. She had been out for like two weeks, and when she had awakened, I was asking her a few yes and no questions. One question I asked was if she remembered us talking while she was under sedation. She smiled and nodded her head yes. I thought so.
In about a week they had to take her off the vent and do a trachea, and after that I never saw her eyes open again. I was still in high hopes, until the night she developed a mucus plug in the air line and couldn’t get oxygen for quite a long time. She turned purple, and the doctor told us it caused major brain damage.
We were told by Patsy’s favorite doctor, the man who has worked on her for 31 years. that she would never be able to come off the respirator. That her brain function was no longer responding and her organs were shutting down. Her kidneys went first. He told us it was time to make the difficult decision. Her daughter Kelly was medical power of attorney and we started making plans to let her go. It was the hardest decision I have ever made. Kelly too.
Kelly flew in from Miami, and she and I, along with two girls that have done so very much for
Patsy, her friends Vicki and Frieda, stood at Patsy’s bedside. I was holding her hand and she was completely out of it, but still I kept talking to her. I was telling her it was okay to go on to Heaven to be with Jesus, and with mom and dad, Aunt Jo and Uncle Jack and Uncle Sonny and that I would see her again one day. On some level I know she heard me. Just like she told me she had before.
The nurse gave her lots of morphine and in a bit they took her off the vent. We all watched and waited as the heart rate dropped over the course of about five minutes. I was wiping her face and talking to her the whole time. We had asked them to turn the circular fan on, and her pretty brown hair - she never went gray
- was blowing in the breeze. I was still holding her hand she slipped away peacefully.
The moment my sister took her last breath, I felt her spirit leave her body and rise up. As sure as I am sitting here typing this, I felt it. I told her friends that I felt like I had looked right into the eyes of God. I had such a sense of peace. Any fear I may have ever had about dying was immediately gone. I could see her smile as clearly as a new sun rise over the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Just a few of my happiest memories of my sister include the following. Our several trips with mother and daddy across the country by car to visit his side of the family in California. She and I learned a lot on those trips and saw things most kids only read about. ...
The birth of her daughter Kelly. Patsy loved Kelly more than anything or anyone on this earth.
..I remember Patsy’s going into nursing, the nurses residence, and her many nurse friends including Robin Whitfield, who married my best friend for many years, the son of my preacher at Mt Zion Baptist, Larry....
I remember her love for the color blue, german chocolate cake, bands like Chicago and The Carpenters - speaking of whom, I remember she and I attending our first concert together, Karen and Richard Carpenter at Spartanburg Auditorium and how much she loved it.
I remember the day after I got my drivers license, driving her to Charlotte to see Tony Orlando and Dawn, getting lost on the way home, and ending up in Columbia...
when I went into Byrnes High School as a freshman, she was a senior, and how she was always watching out for me and helping me through that awkward time...
I remember her buying me my first guitar, a Teisco Del Ray electric at K-Mart, planting the seed that would spawn a singer/songwriter...
I remember the terrible auto accident in 1976 when I was driving her to work at the hospital and we were hit by a guy who was doing acid and flipped my Ranchero and broke her arm and several fingers, and how sad that made me.
But most of all, I remember that smile and those twinkling eyes, and a girl so full of love that it flowed from her heart like honey. I love you Patsy. Always have. Always will. I am comforted to know that the Lord has a new angel in his Heaven. A one of a kind, extra special angel. I will see you in the light darlin. That’s a promise. •
- Michael Buffalo Smith