I must’ve been laying there awake, just staring at her, for me to actually see her eyes open first thing in the morning! I said, with a cheerful surprise in my voice, “Well, hi!”
She responded with a childlike voice, and said in a whisper “Hi!“ I said “Are you hungry?“ She whispered “Yeah!” I was so excited and surprised by her answer, because the night before, Thursday night…… She didn’t want to eat at all, but was willing to at least drink an Ensure shake. So I said “OK! Do you want your mixed fruit and bread pudding again?“ (Basically the only thing that she has eaten in the last two days!) She again whispers in that same little girls voice “Yeah!“
Those were the last words she would speak that I would actually understand! So I propped up a mountain of pillows, and sat her up so she could lean on them, because her body just had no control over being able to use the muscles that she had to sit up on her own! I spoon-fed her the fruit that I had just cut up for her: pineapples, strawberries, blueberries, & peaches! Along with the slice of bread pudding that Matthew Coleman had made and he and Deacon Quen had dropped off Wednesday morning. She ate about five spoonfuls before she just kind of nodded indicating she was done. Then she immediately wanted to lay down and leaned her body the other way.
After putting the bowl in the kitchen I came back and sat next to her on the mattress. I just held her hand. Her breathing was very uncomfortable and rough. She leaned over and took her arm which she had barely been using otherwise and put it around my neck as I was leaning over close to her face. The other arm she kind of wrapped around my waist as much as she could. So I just kind of held her for a brief moment. But the moment didn’t last, because she became very uncomfortable and groaning a little bit. I put my hand on her side where she would usually get the pain and I said “Are you feeling pain? I’ll get the morphine.” So I quickly went and got the bottle of liquid morphine and came back to her to give her the same dosage that she had basically needed each day for the past week to two weeks. She wasn’t completely responsive when I told her “Here it is! I just need you to open your mouth!“ She didn’t open her mouth very quickly… So I had to say it several times before she actually did open her mouth enough for me to squeeze the 5 mL of morphine in. I came right back to sitting by her side and trying to hold her hand. But she was very restless and wanted to sit up! However, as soon as she did sit up, she was not comfortable in that position either, and laid back down, and tossed and turned a bit, all while having jerky type of breathing! I recognized what was going on and understood it to be her spirit now struggling with her body! I was surprised by that, because it was only the day before when the nurse, Shawna, had examined her and brought me into the kitchen to tell me that she was on that final stage of hospice. She had told me that she did not have a crystal ball, but I could expect over the next couple of days that she would probably stop wanting to eat or drink, and that I should not try to force her to at that point. She told me about the lorazepam and how I could give her some and it would really help with the restlessness. Tonya finally settled into the position of laying on her left side facing the fireplace. Again I was holding her hand and realizing that she might go right then and there! So I whispered to her “It’s OK, you go when you’re ready!” At one point her breathing got slower and slower and slower until I was thinking myself “My God! This is it already!“ But it wasn’t! She continued to have that inconsistent breathing pattern, and after a while I recognized that it wasn’t her time quite yet, but this was her new normal breathing for now.
So I sat there until 9 AM when the social worker from Bayada came in to talk with me, and make sure I was OK, and that Inunderstood what was going on. I did understand! Because previously, Bishop John had explained what was going on in that moment in the spiritual sense, that the spirit was struggling to leave the body, so I was not taken by surprise.
Around mid morning, the home care giver came to wash her up. And the social worker left, saying she would check back with me later, but if I needed her to just give her a call. So I thanked her and got the towels and everything together for the at home caregiver to do what she needed to do. I needed to walk Marley, so I left her to handle that and walked Marley quickly. And thank God he handled his business as quickly as I could have possibly asked. We got back in and the caregiver was finished. So I signed the tablet and she went on her way. It was time for her 10:00 AM steroid pill, so I got that and her Gatorade and kneeled down to see if she would be able to take it. It took her a moment to respond to my saying her name several times a little louder each time, until she finally responded with a moan kind of like a “huh?” I told her I needed her to take her pill and to open her mouth. She did, and took the pill and drank a few sips of her Gatorade. I told her she did a good job, and I was just thankful she even responded, knowing the steroid “decadron” really couldn’t go anymore for her at that point. Around 10:45 AM, Kim, came over to see Tonya and stayed watching over her with me. At 11:00 AM nurse Shawna came. I explained to her what had been going on and she went down in front of Tonya and tried speaking to her. I don’t think she got much of any response at all. But she continued to speak anyway knowing that there was a chance Tonya was still hearing her but just couldn’t respond. So I basically updated her on what had happened since she visited the day before. And we talked for a bit. I honestly don’t remember what exactly was said… Which is typical of what happens when my brain really doesn’t care about the exact wording… Just the exact situation that we were facing! So after a while, she left also and told me to call her at any time for anything. I thanked her with a very sincere appreciation for the way the Bayada staff handles these situations. Once in a while Tonya would roll over, and I would make sure her position was as comfortable as could be. Around 12:55 PM she moaned with discomfort of pain again… So I got the morphine and came over to her to give her some. She really didn’t respond when I asked her to open her mouth to take it. So I just got a little louder and finally she did the same moaning type of “huh?“ as she had done earlier. But even then she didn’t respond when I asked her to open her mouth for the morphine. I said her name again a little bit louder and she responded with the same moan like “huh?” but this time she didn’t open her mouth, even after several times asking her to. So I took the little massager that she loved so much and just massaged her right side where the pain always originates from for about ten minutes until she seemed comfortable enough again.
Later on, Damara would come by to see her and love on her for a little while. And then Alisha came over as well. Each one spent time holding her hand for a while. The three of them loved on her one more time and then Kim and Damara headed out as Aunt Jean, cousins Renay and Vashti came in. Everyone left after a while. and I went over and just held her for a while. Then that the prayer team warriors came over. Sister Betty and Sister Toni sat down in front of her. They went into intense prayer and declarations, and stirred up Tonyas spirit to the point of her lifting her head and responding with sounds that were not verbally clear, but still were completely understood. Rachel came in and joined them at some point. When they finished, Tonya put her head back down. My sister, Beth, had actually arrived towards the end, but stayed clear as to not disturb the atmosphere. The two prayer warriors left and Beth and Rachel both sat down with Rachel in front of her on the fireplace ledge, and Beth on the side of the bed at her head. I was on the couch near her head as well. Rachel played three songs. I can’t remember the first one, but the second was “Falling in Love With Jesus”, and the third was a jazz piece that her brother composed and performed. At that time Tonyas breathing was rough and caused her whole body to shake with each breath. Somewhere during that third song, at approximately 5:20 PM on August 7, 2020, Tonya took her last breath here on Earth and accepted her God-given promotion into Heaven! At the same time I looked over at her, Beth said, “Oh good, her breathing has gotten better!” I instantly realized and said, “No, she’s not breathing at all!” I knelt down and checked her pulse in her neck and hands and found none. Beth reached over and took Rachel’s hand. After about 5 minutes of making sure what had happened had truly happened, and with a good amount of shock, the realization hit my soul and the floodgates began to open and fill my eyes. But then her niece Tatiana aka “TT” came in, and I believe Rachel hurried to meet her and then Beth did as well. I came around the front of my wife, who simply looked the same as she did every time she was asleep before. But this body’s sleep was now eternal. I broke all the way down until the sound coming from me was completely unfamiliar to me. I have never cried like that in my life! At some point TT came leaned across my back and cried over her as well. Beth and Rachel had made the phone calls to pastors, Deacon Sara and Bayadas hospice unit. Before I knew it, about 45 minutes had passed, and Bishop John and Pastor Isha were there. They came over and Pastor Isha gave me a hug that felt like she needed to receive the hug just as much as she needed to give it! Bishop has his hands on my shoulders as I just sat there basically cried out. Her brother Jarmaine came in and down to us, but because Tonya looked like she was simply sleeping, he didn’t realize she had passed until I told him, at which point he sat on the edge of the bed with her for a good while. In between phone calls and others showing up, we began to sit around and talk and laugh about how amazing and funny Tonya was over the past 6 plus months since her brain surgery, and how they removed the tumor, but also removed the filter that was in place between her mind and her mouth. All I can say is, I wish my heart and mind was as good and kind as hers, and as funny as well!
The Bayada nurse showed up around 7:30 PM and made it official. She called May Funeral Home, which I had contacted back in July when she first started hospice. We asked them to wait until 10:00 PM to come pick her up. That gave the Smith’s, Dr Ken and Dr Robin, time to get to the house and see her. It was also Dr Robins birthday, but she wanted to come see her sister one last time. She had walked us through this entire journey and it was very fitting for her to see her off. When they arrived to take her, everyone cleared out of the family room for me to say goodbye one last time. This last moment had played in my mind a thousand times in the previous weeks, but some things you can only prepare yourself for but so much. I kneeled down in front of her and whispered in her ear, through a slightly trembling voice “You’re free, my love! Thank you for this life you shared with me! Thank you for this marriage you shared with me! We did the dang thing, didn’t we? I love you! I will see you again, Tonya!” I kissed her and then broke down again! I hadn’t realized that Bishop stayed in the kitchen to make sure I was ok. He took 3 pictures of our goodbye…which are so very precious! I finally got up and walked into a big hug from Bishop in the kitchen. When I said I was done, the two men from the funeral home said they needed us to leave the room. We did, and stood near the front door. When they carried her out, I didn’t see her being carried out in a bag, I saw her being carried out on her shield! She had fought the amazing fight, and kept her faith, her love, and her joy through it all. She was always more concerned for me than she was for herself. Bishop followed them all the way out to the vehicle to see that his spiritual daughter was secured.
And just like that, Tonya Marie, the absolute love of my life, was gone!
As painful and hard as it is going forward, I realize that she did not leave me feeling empty, because there is truly great purpose in my pain!
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