She lived barefoot and died barefoot: the legendary passing of a “feisty Christian Mountain woman” by Iris Cox

Thursday, 04 Jul 2013 00:36

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Dr. Monica Williams-Murphy is a Board Certified Emergency Medicine Physician, who practices in one of the largest emergency departments in the United States at Huntsville Hospital. Through her writing and speaking, she is devoted to transforming the end of life into a time of peace, closure and healing. Media Page


Let me tell you about my dear landlady, Sue, as she prepared to die a natural and family supported death last week:

Sue had a series of falls last year which culminated in some difficult knee surgery (which she resented), because she loved to walk fast everywhere. Sue was a feisty Christian mountain woman — always barefoot and always independent. She raised 6 children and entertained many dozens of people in her gracious home over the years. And although her mind was starting to go, she was still very active.

Then, she had a bad tumble down the back stairs and hurt her back, sustaining compression fractures in her spine. She was sent to a local rehab place –where she panicked and tried to run away.

Her family came and got her, but she was not well. She did not want to eat and had difficulty walking. Two mornings later they found her unresponsive, and called 911!

The medics arrived and suspected heart failure/attack and acted accordingly. At the hospital, the eventual diagnosis was BROKEN HEART SYNDROME which mimics a heart attack, but for Sue, there was also clot
in one ventricle and small pieces had broken off and travelled to her brain. The doctors estimated she may have had many small strokes by the time she was admitted. They predicted brain damage and a dim prognosis.

That night, Sue slept but was very, very agitated. The whole family was called in – including me. Her husband gathered the children and as they discussed what to do, they sang and prayed over her. The next day she rallied and sat up and ate food. However, she was blind! She could see no one. The doctors said this might heal…

The next day, Sue sat upright in bed and very clearly began to talk to the family about heaven, and what was important in life. She especially focused on her grandchildren and exhorted them not to be so taken up with the things of this world but to seek God’s kingdom AND SHE SAW EVERYONE CLEARLY!

She preached for nearly an hour and then fell back onto her pillow. Two days later the doctors said they could not offer any further therapies — and suggested Hospice.

The family brought her home and set up a bed. All tubes, IVs and machines were disconnected and a nurse was put on call. They left the front door open for a stream of visitors. Sue was peaceful and happy to see so many people around her. Her brother called her on the phone and reminisced with her. She sang hymns and recited the lyrics of her favorte hymns often. She told people she had been speaking with Jesus.

She was only taking ice chips and had no appetite. Her family kept vigil 24/7 all Saturday. My daughter and I came and sat with her enjoying the wonderful closeness and specialness of her family’s love and care — I told her I was there. She smiled and said, “Thank God for ‘forever’ friends.”

I told her we would be together forever. Then, she sang The Old Rugged Cross for the millioneth time! How dear that was.

Her husband went around to each grandchild, encouraging them to “let Grandma Sue go; it’s her time to leave, so let’s not hold on to her…”

Sunday she mostly slept. Then, suddenly around 4pm, she sat up — her eyes were watching something on the ceiling (she had told one of the kids she was seeing her angel beckoning to her off and on…) — she didn’t speak but watched intently.

At 4:30 she fell back, and was gone. She was at peace.

The family softly sang and prayed for several hours while the doctor and the hospice nurse were called. (She had left instructions for DNR and so forth.)

She asked to be buried within 3 days and to have a viewing of her body for the sake of those who needed closure. This was mountain tradition.

On Tuesday they had the viewing. She lay there in incredible loveliness and peacefulness — barefoot in her coffin.

The author of this wonderful story is Iris Cox, and Sue’s family gave permission to share her legacy.

(Photo credit:

(Editor’s Note: All faith traditions have stories of powerful and beautiful dying events. Feel free to share yours.)

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6 thoughts on “She lived barefoot and died barefoot: the legendary passing of a “feisty Christian Mountain woman” by Iris Cox

  1. Karene Miller

    How wonderful and uplifting. My mother also was a mountain woman. After many strokes, she went home peacefully. I can remember going to visit her and just praying that God would give me a sign that she knew I was there. Two days prior to her passing, I looked back at her as I was leaving and she tried so hard to say my name. I knew then that she understood that I was there and that she could go on home as she always said she would. How wonderful to know that the angels are still abiding. Thank you for the beautiful story.

  2. Rea

    A touching story.
    A “good death.”
    The kindness of neighbors.
    The comfort and beauty of music.
    A memory to treasure.
    A lesson to share.
    A tale worth telling, well told.

  3. Linda Fredrick

    Beautiful story and I think Rea stated it very well. This illustrates how important it is to respect one’s last wish and cherish the inevitable process.

  4. ginny gadberry

    My Mother Donna Williamson has given her lifes blood and her entire heart to help families like this to make the transition a peaceful and loving way to heaven. The family doesn’t have to watch their loved one wither away in a hospital bed , but rather surrounded by the people who love them the most. This is a story with a happy ending…if you believe.

  5. Joan Hacker

    A sweet, beautiful story. I like the “Barefoot Woman”.

    My daughter’s father-in-law was 91 yrs. old. He went to work at his insurance office every day; he cooked supper every Saturday night for the whole family; he was a working Elder at the church he loved so much; he was a tower of wisdom and strength for the extended family. On Father’s Day, 2013, he had a sudden Cerebellar stroke. He was alert, but could not speak. Later at the hospital he still knew his family. There was hope that there might be some recovery, but as the days passed he began to decline. Vital organs began to shut down. The doctors asked the family if they wanted further measures. His wife of 61 years stood at his bedside, then went out to the nurses and said “No”. There was standing room only at his funeral last Monday afternoon.

  6. Pingback: She lived barefoot and died barefoot: the legendary passing of a “feisty Christian Mountain woman” by Iris Cox | It’s OK to Die | Loss, Grief, Transitions and Relationship Support

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