In the realm of widowhood, men silently navigate the labyrinth of grief, their strength often veiled by societal expectations. Empower their stories of loss and resilience to reveal healing transcends gender and anyone can rise from the ashes. In today’s riveting conversation, we have a special guest joining us, Mr. Martin Owens. We stumbled upon Martin’s poignant story on TikTok and knew immediately that his journey deserved to be shared.
It’s essential to create a space where men can openly share their experiences and emotions to feel validated, supported, and empowered, especially in a society where their struggles often remain invisible and ignored. As the episode unfolds, Martin embarks on a profound exploration of his journey alongside his late wife, Tanya. Martin opens up about the intricacies of his grief and shares how his widowhood journey went. This heartfelt conversation proves to be the longest and most profound one yet in the history of the Widowhood Real Talk Podcast. By allowing a male perspective on grief to grace the airwaves, Martin brings a unique dimension to the discussion. His journey sheds light on the often untold stories of widowers. It is an episode that will leave you with a newfound understanding of the complexities of grief and the resilience of the human spirit. Don’t miss it.
Thank you for viewing this post. I am not a licensed therapist or professional life coach.
I am sharing my experience of loving the same man for 32 years, a mother to two adult children, a retired military officer, a breast cancer survivor, and my connections with others.
Anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts should reach out to a suicide hotline or local emergency number in their country https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/suicide/suicide-prevention-hotlines-resources-worldwide
Facebook: MTAC – More Than A Conqueror Inc.
“Homesick” (My final video from a home going celebration)
“Stay” (changing the dream boutique closet I built for her into a memory and prayer area)
YouTube In Loving Memory Playlist
MTAC – More Than A Conqueror Inc
Extreme Makeover For Breast Cancer Conqueror, Jessie
Watch the episode here
Listen to the podcast here
The Miss-Wife Crisis: A Widower’s Tale Of Love, Loss, And Resilience With Martin Owens
I want you to send me your questions. I want you to write in. I want you to let me know if you want to share your journey on Widowhood Real Talk. You can email me at WidowhoodRealTalk@gmail.com, or you can go to our website, which is Widowhood-RealTalkWithTina.org. I want to hear from you. Now, you’re about to hear from Mr. Martin Owens. He’s going to share with us his journey and his wife, Tonya. Let’s get into the conversation.
Our guest is Mr. Martin Owens.
How are you? I’m good.
Welcome. I want to say that there are not enough men out here sharing their journey. I saw Martin sharing his story on TikTok and reached out to him. I asked him if he would be interested in sharing his journey here on the show. I am excited that he said yes, and I’m excited for all the men that are going to hear his journey, and women too. We need to have more of the men out there sharing because sometimes they’re silently suffering. We want an opportunity for that healing and encouragement to come. Thank you so much.
I always joke about it. Anytime you give me a chance to talk about my wife, even if it’s the tough times, I’ll take the opportunity.
Tell me what gives you hope these days.
My purpose. One thing I realized from the time she passed is she didn’t leave me without purpose. I knew I had a purpose. When she passed, I knew to a degree what that purpose was in terms of finishing her book that she had started and writing the second book, which is her second battle of cancer, then writing a grief book, and eventually writing our life stories combined. I know that much purpose because our marriage had a lot of purpose in it. It was sharing how our marriage was and different things. I don’t even know what God has for me in the future. I know there’s a lot there.
Your wife’s name is?
Tell us a little bit about this love story that you would write from when you guys met. We want all of the tea. We don’t want a short version. We want the first date, when you were nervous, how you met, everything.
The funny thing is we met online. We met on BlackPlanet.com, which was interesting because before I met her, I was dating a lot and I used that word loosely.
This is an adult conversation. You’re telling us to read between the lines with that.
You read all around those lines. Yes and amen to all of it. When we met back in 2004, online dating was not that much. She wanted us to keep it a secret in terms of how we met. She’s like, “Let’s say we met at a business meeting or business mixer.” There was some truth to it because I had a Black page called Philly Fix It. I was doing handyman stuff and she had a page also. She does event coordination and stuff like that. There was some truth to that, but we kept it quiet. Our promise was either our 50th anniversary or on our deathbed when we finally tell the truth.
When she hit hospice, I was like, “I have to finally tell the truth now.” She just smiled about it. Who would’ve ever thought from that what would come out of us meeting like that? I’ll be honest, it wasn’t a love-at-first-sight thing. It was an interest at first sight. She found me cute enough, but she was also smart. She didn’t tell me her real name.
First, we started with chatting online on BlackPlanet, and then we went to Yahoo Chats before we finally shared phone numbers. Once we got on the phone, we found ourselves unable to stop talking. We talked into the middle of the night and that kind of thing, but she was still smart. Even during that time, she didn’t tell me her real name. She just said she was T. She didn’t tell me where she worked.
I appreciated that because I felt like some women were a little bit too easygoing. Someone would send me a message saying, “I’m coming up from Washington DC. I thought I’d spend the weekend with you.” I never talked to her before or anything like that. I was like, “Maybe I want to add your body in the basement I have because you don’t know me at all. What are you talking about?” Her being smart like that, I appreciated that. I was like, “It’s no problem. You need to be protective.”
We talked on the phone for almost a month before we ever even met face-to-face. The first time we met face-to-face was in the parking lot of Deptford Mall in New Jersey outside the JCPenney. I got in her car and sat in there. I had a throat cold at the time. We talked for two hours in the car. This would’ve been April 1st of 2004. We just talked and talked. By the time I got out of her car, she ended up with a throat cold too.
Even then, we were not trying to get serious. She had a way about her in terms of like, “Let’s not say goodbye.” She’s like, “I’ll see you when I see you.” That was her way of telling guys if she was not trying to get serious. I’ve been married before and I had a son. I had told her early on, “It’s just me and my son. I’m not trying to get serious.” She’s like, “That’s cool. I’m not trying to get serious in it either.”
It was easy because she and I weren’t pressing the issue. We just got to be laid back with each other. The more time we spent, the more we realized that this is a little bit more than keeping it casual and whatnot. We got to the point where I said I love you first because she bragged about that for years. When I said, “I love you,” her response was, “I adore you.” I was like, “That’s cool with me.” Here’s the funny thing about that because she’d always say, “Martin said I love you first.” Don’t get me wrong, she said it four days later, but she’d always talk about, “Martin said I love you first.”
When she was in hospice, I said, “Honey, you know how you always brag about me saying I love you first, but you said I adore you. What does Jesus say? Jesus said we’d have to love even our enemies. He never said we had to adore enemies. You saying you adore me, there’s a little bit deeper than me saying I love you if you want to think about it.” She got a surprise look at her face and she had to laugh about that. I was like, “I got you in the end. You had all these years to brag and everything, but I got you.”
We did have quite an adornment for each other. I would say my son and her fell in love with each other first. He was only not even seven years old yet, and she was so nervous about meeting him. The first time they were meeting, she went out to the store to buy all these snacks and all this stuff. She had a whole bag of stuff. She won his heart pretty quickly.
When it came time to propose to her, we both did it together. There was an event at our church. It was a cafe night where you can sing and perform. She’s a singer. We had planned that halfway through. They called me up and I called her up. She’s like, “I’m not singing.” I was like, “No, you’re not singing. Just sit down in the chair.”
She sat down in the chair and Quintin was next to me. I got the microphone. There have to be 150 people there. I was telling them in the past year how our lives had changed, and then I showed a video because I’m good at music videos. If you see how I am on TikTok, that started all the way back then. The video had all these pictures of us together and it had the song by Donnie McClurkin, Here With You. The last picture was two ring boxes. She was already blurry-eyed because she was emotional from the video. When that picture came up, Quintin and I were down on one knee.
The whole entire building erupted. She’s teared up. I proposed to her first, and she said yes. Quintin called her “Miss T” at the time. He takes a microphone and he’s like, “Miss T, will you be my stepmom?” People were crying. It was great. It was an amazing moment. That’s how we started out. She said something early on which stuck with me. She said, “I don’t want us to ever get so comfortable with each other that we stop trying.” I was like that.
It was amazing how we’ve grown together. We would sit in church. The things that the pastor would say, we’d nudge each other because we had just talked about that thing. It was a lot of confirmation in the word and whatnot. We grew together. She had a lot of talents, skills, and creativity. So did I. We bounced off of each other. It was an amazing sixteen years of relationship and almost fifteen years of marriage.
That is beautiful. I cannot even imagine the love that your son felt to be able to say that, do that, and trust. As a dad, I’m sure in your serial dating experience, you were not introducing everyone to your son in that process at all.
I had him on the weekends, so there were plenty of times when I was by myself and stuff. He was not meeting people like that.
At what point did Tonya take ill? How did you guys find out about the cancer, if I may ask?
This was the crazy thing. January of 2017, literally the beginning of the month, she was sitting on the end of our bed getting dressed and a spider dropped down beside her while she was sitting on the edge of the bed. It was like Little Miss Muffet. She got up to run and she fell on her face. Her fist was underneath her, she fell, and her fist hit her breast. She landed on her fist on the floor. We didn’t know this was even possible, so we didn’t have any idea what had happened at the time. What happened at that moment was almost like if cancer was a yolk of an egg, the egg broke opened and the cancer got released from there. At the same time, because of the way she fell, some of the blood vessels broke open, so the cancer got into her blood system.
This is the beginning of January and we had no idea that that happened because we never even heard of that happening. Later on, talking to her oncologist, he was like, “I’ve seen that with women who have car accidents and their breasts hit the steering wheel and that kind of thing happened.” That happened at the beginning of January. She always took off the first week of the month from Comcast working.
She came to work with me. I was going to one of my clients in Philadelphia and she came along. She was talking to the client the whole entire time I was working on her bathroom. The client is an entrepreneur herself. She makes jewelry. She went to Greece and spent a year in Greece, so she came home with this desire to make jewelry. Tonya spent the day talking to her in her office and got inspired. At the end of that day, that client had referred us to a friend of hers and we went to her friend’s house across the city. She needed some work done in her basement. They had a flood and needed sheetrock done. Tonya took charge, which was great because I hate the business part of my work. She loves the business part. I’m a contractor doing home improvements.
We got there. She did almost all the talking and everything. I figured out what I needed to do. The woman said she needed the basement painted and Tonya offered. She’s like, “I’ll give you a price on that.” My eyebrows went up. She likes painting. I won’t paint for money, I hate painting. We did that, she was having such a good day that day, and we went home.
The next day, she had to go back to Comcast. I walk her out to her car as normal and I see her bottom lip sticking out. I put her in her car and was like, “Don’t go get yourself fired today, purpose. I see that look on your face, you don’t want to go back.” She laughed because she knew exactly what I was talking about. What was amazing was I text her later on because it was a Tuesday. I was like, “Why don’t we spend a date night tonight trying to figure out how we can transition you out of Comcast to being full-time with me?” She loved that.
An hour later, she texts me back that her whole entire department had an emergency meeting. It turned out they were shutting her department down. She had the choice of either applying for another job or taking a severance package. Her hand went up so quickly for that severance package. She’s like, “Me, I’m out. I’m going.” They’re like, “Really? You can think about it.” She’s like, “No, I’m good.” It was amazing because the transition that we needed in terms of her still having income until we can figure out how to get her full-time happened that quickly. It was like, “God, you really are listening.”
That happened. She still took two weeks to think about it even though she knew. At that time, she went to the cafeteria one day, and a complete stranger she never met before walked up to her and asked her if she was a minister. She said, “No, but I am a believer.” She’s like, “This is going to sound strange to you, but I just have a word from God. He wants to let you know that you’re making a big decision and he’s with you with the decision that you’ve made.” She was like, “Praise God. That’s it. It’s a done story.” She left and she started working with me. It was amazing working with her. It was like being on vacation doing work.
In the first six weeks of her working with me, she brought in more sales than I did the whole year prior because she’s good like that. She went with me on a job. All I was doing was running a water line through the refrigerator and she talked to the client while I was in there. That was an $85 job. She’s just talking to her. In her girl talk, she started asking her about the kitchen, “Do you ever think about redoing it?” The woman was like, “I’ll think about it.” She gave her a whole entire revision. We left there with a deposit to redo the whole entire kitchen by the time we were done that day. That’s how she was. I would’ve gone home with an $85 check, not for a check for a deposit in the kitchen. It was amazing.
How has that been doing business in Tonya’s absence compared to going from what Martin did to Tonya? Where are you now in that process?
I shut the business down. I made that decision. I don’t know if I made it before she passed, but I made it quickly afterward. I was like, “I’m not doing this without her.” She took it to a level. I can’t go back to what I was doing before that. Even before she joined the business, she was always giving her input all along. Martin has a very bad habit of not charging enough because Martin loves what he does and he doesn’t want to overcharge. When she joined, I would do the estimates, she would go in and adjust those estimates and add a couple more zeros or whatever she needed to add to them to make it right. She was right to do so.
It’s for a couple of reasons why I shut it down. The biggest one being, I don’t like the business side and she did. I don’t have her to have my back like she did before. She handled the ones that I don’t handle well. I’m going to leave it at that. She had a classy way of handling people and she did it very well. I felt like God took my passion for doing home improvement away from me. I was checking myself. I’m like, “Is it just me and my emotions?” I came to the conclusion, no. There was a point where I didn’t want to do some of it anymore anyway because I’m hitting 50 and this is hard on the body after a while. I can’t do this forever. There was that thought even while she was working. Afterward, I shut the business down, but I did work for close family and close friends.
Before she passed, we started a nonprofit for cancer patients to help them in whatever ways they can. One thing we learned through her battle was, even if cancer doesn’t kill you, it’s going to kill your bank account. It can mess with you. The last thing people need to fight with is their finances and how they’re going to peep their electric bill and their gas bill when they’re trying to stay alive. We decided to start a nonprofit to help that. We did that in May 2020. She passed in August. I didn’t know that they had accepted the nonprofit until after she passed because I hadn’t heard anything.The last thing people need to fight with is their finances and how they're going to keep their electric bill on their gas bill and everything like that when they're just trying to stay alive, literally. Click To Tweet
I do that now. I have quite a few clients, and a lot of them are quiet. I go and do work for them or whatever they need. We’re trying to build it to the point where we can help people financially in terms of their bills. That’s one thing I’ve done in place of home improvement. I came from one of those clients in Philadelphia.
In the nonprofit that you started, you talked about helping people. What are some ways that your nonprofit has been of assistance to people struggling with cancer?
So far, it’s been home improvement, home repairs, renovations, and bits of things even in terms of t-shirt donations. The t-shirt I have on now is one of the designs we do. I just started the t-shirt store, but I had been making them for the last few years. One of our little sisters at the church who had got diagnosed the year before was getting her mastectomy done last May. We privately went in, I took measurements for her whole entire kitchen and her flooring. While she was in getting her mastectomy, we did a complete makeover on her kitchen and put a whole new flooring on the first floor in one day. She had no clue.
It was amazing. I ripped out all the kitchen cabinets, countertops, and the whole thing. My son and nephew put in the flooring throughout the whole place. Some of our sisters came over and did the organizing stuff. They’re much better at putting all the stuff back after I put the cabinets up. She got released that same day, which we didn’t know. You’re in a mastectomy. Who’s going home on the same day? They released her the same day. We were frantic in terms of how we were going to handle that. One of our sister’s friends who was her best friend put her up in a hotel. She’s like, “You can’t go home now. We got something going on. We’re going to put you over the hotel.”
She would have no clue as to what we were doing. Who would think that in 24 hours, you’re going to come home to a brand-new kitchen and all-new flooring? She came home the next day. There was a TikTok video of that as well of her coming home and us doing the whole process. That was amazing. That was one of the bigger ones.
Most of my clients are private. They haven’t gone real public with their cancer battles. That was the one where she was public about it, so we could do something big. There are other ones where we did a patio makeover. She wanted an area where she could go after her chemo treatments and relax afterward. She went out and we came and we put in a day bed, a water fish, a fire pit lighting, and some extra chairs. She came home to that. We couldn’t be there because she was taking forever to get home, so we just told her sister to videotape her reaction. She kept it in private, so I got to see them.
How is this being funded?
If someone wanted to donate, how would they go about doing that? Is there a website or do they connect with you? How does that work?
The main page is on Facebook, which is MTAC – More Than A Conqueror, Inc. If they go in there, it has all the lists of different things.
Is this what you’re doing full-time? How does Martin eat? How are you taking care of all these?
I’m doing that. Like I said, I still do home improvement for friends and family, enough to keep me going. That’s the two main ways of doing that. We had a lot of businesses together. She had her wedding and event coordinating business that we did. We had one called Giving You Props where we make stage props and different things like that. We make furniture. I made all the furniture for the tabernacle, which is the Ark of the Covenant, and all of that furniture for the church at one point. It’s different things like that where we have different sources of income that all work themselves out.
You were talking about purpose in the books. Can you give us a little bit more, like the titles of the book? Are they still available?
The books are all being written now. Her book, I finished the rough draft on the last day of February. I was trying to finish it on the last day of January, but it was a tough time. I knew I was getting to get attacked by the enemy. It took longer, but it’s okay. It was interesting writing that book because it’s from her point of view. She had notes, but she did not have anything written down, just a lot of notes.
The amazing thing about that is we went to Israel in 2019, which was a life-changing trip. On the third day in, I got to help baptize her in the Jordan River where Jesus was baptized. There was someone there, an apostle party from Louisiana. When she came out of the water, he saw something on her. Tonya said she felt something when she came out of the water also. That night, he came, he wanted to speak to us. He asked our bishop if it was okay. We spoke to it. Bishop had never told him anything about her condition.
This is when she was re-diagnosed with cancer. She had beaten it the first time. She got diagnosed in 2017 and beat it by 2018. 2019, end of May, it turned out it came back, it had gone metastatic, and it came back with stage four cancer in her lungs. We found out about 3 or 4 weeks before we went to Israel. She’s like, “I’m supposed to go to Israel.” Her oncologist is like, “You’re going to go to Israel. What we’re going to do is we’re going to get you two treatments in. You’ll do this and this while you’re there and you’ll be fine.” We were there for ten days. He’s like, “I believe in order for somebody to want to fight for their life, they have to have a life worth fighting for.”
He wanted us to go. Praise God, he did, because that trip was amazing. For most of that trip, you would’ve barely known she ever had cancer at all. Nobody knew it on the trip. We didn’t tell anybody except pastors and a few individuals, but it was an amazing trip. We got to go to the church where Jesus was invited to the wedding and changed the water to wine and we got to renew our vows in there. That was very important. I know I’m getting off the subject a little bit, but I had to go back and tell that bit of story to go forward.
We didn’t know how important it was for us to renew our vows then because the next year in 2020 was supposed to be our 15th anniversary and she passed 2 months short of that. We were supposed to renew our vows then. There’s not a much better place to renew your vows than in the place where Jesus changed the water into wine. Even though that was a short and sweet thing, it was still amazing. In terms of going back to the books, he had prophesied to her that, “I see books being written. I see speaking engagements. I see all of these things.” We’re like, “Praise God. She’s going to make it through this whole entire battle. No problem.”
You can imagine my confusion the next year when I’m putting her in hospice. We believed God said that she was going to live. I had recorded that whole time he talks to her and prophesied to her. I went back and listened to it. It wasn’t that he prophesied that she was going to live. He prophesied the books and the speaking engagements. He never said it was going to be her. I’m like, “Okay.” Initially, when I put her on hospice, I’m like, “I need some answers. Tell me something.” Within a week, two of her girlfriends are at the church, one of them is an author coach and another one writes the plays for our church. They got ahold of us out of the blue and said, “We would like to ghost write her book.” I asked Tonya if she was okay with that. She was like, “Yes.”
They had started with all her notes. After she passed, we had some meetings to ask questions. They had started writing it. What I didn’t realize and what they didn’t realize at first was they can’t write her story. They couldn’t write it. I needed to write it. I was working on the second book already at the time they were working on the first book because I was working on the second battle. That was the hard one because that’s the one where she passes. It was very hard to relive all of that, but I was doing it. That one was from my point of view, and the first one’s from her point of view.
What I realized in writing all of that is they can’t write her story because they don’t know how she felt, what she thought, and all of those different things to the level where they could write it. They need to plug right into my brain in order to get all those things out. Our marriage and our relationship were the types that I knew what she was thinking and feeling most of the time. I was able to write her book the way she would’ve written it, what she would’ve said, and what she would’ve felt.
It was therapeutic doing that. I had to stop writing the second book because it was getting too hard. It was getting to where it was draining. I still have 90 pages of that written already, but I stopped. For a while, I wasn’t doing any writing at all, and they weren’t either. I went to them and I finally told them, “I’m going to have to take that over.” They agreed. They were like, “Yes, we can’t do this. We feel like we’re not supposed to do this.”
What I appreciated was God put them in place to get it started at a time when I needed that. God knew that I needed somebody to confirm that these books were going to get done. Them lighting the match and lighting the fire was their purpose in it. They’re still there to encourage and coach, but it had to be me. That book is just about done. I have some more stories to add to it, but it’s not your typical book. It’s not your cancer book. It’s a love story with cancer, not a cancer story with love.
You mentioned a lot about God. What is your relationship with God and how did that come to be?
I grew up in church. My dad wasn’t a pastor, but he was a reverend so he worked for American Baptist churches. I never knew what he did. He traveled all over the place and went to different churches and sometimes brought us along with him. I’ve been to church from here to California to Puerto Rico and everywhere, but I did have that one quality that they say about preachers’ kids and whatnot in terms of us being defiant. That was me. I can’t say my relationship with God was a tight one because I struggled with him early on in life.
I was adopted. Both of my brother and sister were, too. I struggled with identity early on. In struggling with my identity, I was angry at God a lot. I won’t say that I came to understand and know God until I started going to the same church that Tonya was going to. She was going to Victory in Christ Christian Center. I was going to a different church. The church I was going to serve its purpose in getting me to go back to church, but it was not the church I was meant to be in. When she was going there, I started going to church with her. We grew together in amazing ways.
When that was happening, when I started going there, I was in the middle of a divorce. I had filed for divorce from my ex-wife in 2000. It was 2004 and it wasn’t going through. It wasn’t because I was fighting everything. I gave her just about everything. It still wouldn’t go through, and I couldn’t figure out what was going on.
I come to understand what was going on when I got to Victory because there was a pastor at the time who was teaching about husbands, fatherhood, being wives, and the curse of all of them. In teaching that, I realized when he was teaching, I was like, “I had more to do with our marriage going bad than I realized.” It’s because I was pointing the finger a lot at her. She has a lot to blame for, but not as much as I realized it was on me be being the head. I learned a lot from that. I sat back and I was like, “I screwed up a lot.”
I don’t have resentment as, “If I’d known then what I knew now, our marriage would’ve been better.” No. If I’d known then what I know now, we would’ve never gotten married, to begin with. I have no doubt my ex feels the same way because we weren’t ready. In acknowledging that and understanding that, God was waiting for me to get to that point and understand that before he would let me more forward and screw up another marriage because I didn’t understand what I had done wrong to begin with. As soon as I came to that understanding, that divorce went through three weeks later. It was amazing. It was done. I got the letter, and it was finalized. I got the point and everything.
Through the years, we never had an easy time in our marriage in terms of finances and stuff like that. We started off when I was working for home improvement doing kitchen refacing, but five months after we were married, they laid me off. I decided to open my own home improvement business at that point. Not knowing anything about business was a financial struggle. We struggled financially through the years and different other things we struggle with.
The thing I take most out of it is our problems were never between us. Our problems were always in front of us. We locked arms and kept our problems in front of us and never allowed our problems to come between us, no matter what it was, no matter who screwed up, or whatever. We came to an agreement. Even if it was my idea and she agreed, she wasn’t going to say, “That was your idea.” No. We put our problems in front of us and we fought them together. We never let problems come between us.
I had my battles with God throughout because there was a time when I went through a strenuous custody battle later on, and it was rough. I’m like, “God, you’re allowing this.” At the end of it, when I got through it, I realized he brought us through it. Even though it was ridiculous and a lot of things went on, he had brought us through it, and that grew my faith through that struggle. I honestly think the greatest growth in your faith comes through your struggles, not through your successes.The greatest growth in your faith comes through your struggles, not through your successes. Click To Tweet
When Tonya beat cancer for the first time, that was a witness of the miraculous, to begin with. She got diagnosed in June 2017. That was one of the crazy things because God said, “I got you,” in terms of making the decision to leave Comcast, then she ends up with cancer before her insurance and all that stuff runs out. She’s like, “What’s up? What happened?” She started chemo and went through all that.
Halfway through her chemo treatment, she went back to her breast cancer surgeon who examined her. Her breast cancer surgeon was amazed because, at first, the mass in her breast was the size of an orange or a tennis ball. When she examined her, we’re talking a month and a half later, it was the size of a grape. Her breath cancer surgeon said, “This is not normal results at all.” This was the head surgeon of MD Anderson. She’s like, “This is a gift.” She didn’t use the word miracle, but we knew what she was saying. She’s like, “This is a true gift.”
Tonya was too busy being upset at the time because she had just said that she was still going to have to get surgery. It wasn’t about the surgery. She was thinking, “I want to get back to my life. I want to get back to running these businesses. This is interfering with that. When are we going to be done with this? When are we going to move on?” Tonya’s upset and I’m looking at the surgeon’s face as her eyes are wide open like she can’t believe this is going on. She’s like, “This is not normal.” Later on, she would say that the only reason she beat cancer the first time was her faith and her will to live. She should have never beaten it the first time. That said a lot, and it grew both of our faiths even more so then.
The first book is called The Spider and the Butterfly. She’s the butterfly. That’s what she loves so much. The second book is called The King and the Butterfly because it’s my witnessing of her relationship with God throughout the whole entire thing, which was amazing. It was amazing in terms of witnessing her love for God and her relationship with God.
She ended up getting brain surgery because, on January 31st, 2020, I had to take her to the ER because it turned out, even though she was beating cancer in her lung, she beat that down like she was beating down her original cancer. In January, she started getting headaches. I had to take her to the ER and found out that it traveled to her brain. We couldn’t figure that out. Why is it traveling to her brain if she’s beating it in her lung?
One of her girlfriends who’s an amazing OB-GYN cancer surgeon herself explained to us that there’s this thing called the blood-brain barrier. What it allows is, it won’t allow chemicals to go through like toxins. It stops toxins from going through your brain, but anything in the bloodstream like cancer can still get through. Even though she was beating back the cancer in her lung, the cancer still was able to travel into her brain.
She got brain surgery done on February 3rd, 2020, which was the day after the Super Bowl I was watching in her room with her. She was never quite the same after that. She was still there in a lot of ways, but it wasn’t quite the same. It removed a lot of her filter. She was a trip, but the thing about it was I wish if I ever got my filter removed, you better lock me in a room with only very close friends of mine.
She said some stuff that was off the hook, but she prophesied. Her relationship with God went to a whole other level, and she was saying some things that were like wow. By the time she passed, people asked if I was angry at God. I was not angry at God. I loved God and I trusted God more than I ever had before at that point because I realized people might go. He took her away. I never deserved her, to begin with. Based on my history, failed marriage is the first time, and how I was living up to the point where I met her, I didn’t deserve her. That’s not a resume for deserving to have a wife like that. I had to praise God for giving me the time with her.
It’s funny because during her first battle, we met a woman who was stage four cancer and she was ready to die. The church called us. I’m one of the deacons, and they called the deacons and asked if anybody could go out there and pray with the woman. It was the day before Tonya’s birthday in October, and she said she wanted to go. Tonya has an amazing presence in the hospital in terms of being with patients and the way she goes in the room and she changes the atmosphere. She does that everywhere she goes.
In the hospital, she’s amazing. She wanted to go this time, and I told the elder that I’d be going with her. We got there, we were outside the room, and the doctors were in there. Tonya could feel the presence in the room. It was one of despair and hopelessness. When the doctors left, I can only describe it as she went and kicked the doors into that room and she changed the whole entire atmosphere.
She went in with her, “Hi, I’m Tonya” and explained everything. I just sat back. I was like, “You do your thing.” She did. She just went in there and explained, “I’m beating breast cancer now.” I don’t know how long we were there. All I know is, she had us in prayer together. It was Tonya, myself, the patient, and her niece were in there. It was her niece that called us. We had us a prayer. By the time she was done, she gave this woman so much hope that she wanted to fight still.
We left that room. Her niece came out after us and stopped Tonya and told her, “I want to thank you. We were talking about she was ready to die by that weekend. What we were doing right before you came in is she was telling me who to give this to, who to give that to, and what stuff to give away because she was planning on being gone by Saturday.” Tonya got emotional about that.
The woman still ended up passing away three months later, but the amazing thing about that is she had been estranged from her daughter. Her daughter only came back because she found out her mother was passing. It gave her daughter three more months with her mother that she would not have had otherwise to make amends and do all that stuff.
That was the important thing, allowing this daughter and mother to have their relationship bonded again before her mother passed away. She’d also been married for three years to Willie. They’re in their 70s, so we went to see them the week before she passed. Tonya went in with her and I was out with Willie in the kitchen talking to him. He was telling me that he had been married before for 40 some years and his wife passed with cancer, but there was something different about this marriage. This is amazing. He’s like, “I love my first wife, but there’s something about this that was different. We were like little kids having a great time. It’s only been three years.”
I ended up saying to him something that would come back to minister to me. I said to him, “God knew all along what was going to happen with her, and he chose you to walk her through the last three years of her life. There’s no way she would’ve wanted to spend it than the way she spent it with you.” When Tonya hit hospice, those words came back to me. He knew what was going to happen to her, and I got to spend the last sixteen years with her, walk her through that, and give her back to him. A lot of those moments added up along the way, and it gave me a great appreciation for all God allowed me to do with her and how he grew us together. I have to praise God for everything.
After she passed, I spent a lot of time alone. I hit the road after I did her celebration. For a month, I went to travel across the country because when she had hospice, I was like, “You never wanted to talk about funerals and all that stuff. What did you want to do? Did you want to be buried with your family?” She’s like, “I don’t care. What do you want to do?” I was like, “I want to cremate you. I want to take your ashes and go every place across the country we were supposed to go together and spread them there.” That’s what I did. Two weeks after doing her celebration, I got in my van and went up to Niagara Falls first, went across the country, all the way down through California, and all across the South. I was gone for a month and three days, just me, her, and God.
It was the best decision I could have ever made. God talked to me so much during that trip. I’m not spiritually deep. I’m not the one that says I hear from God all the time. No, not at all, but he’s carried me so much through this process. I feel carried. He’s talking to me and giving me revelation on different things and understanding. I would’ve never known that helping people walk through their grief and their cancer was going to be two things that I was going to be purposed to do, but I see how I am.
The only thing I asked God was, “I have no problem with the pain because of the amount of love we have, I completely expect the pain, but I just want to be a purpose in the pain.” He’s given me purpose in the pain in terms of being able to minister to other people and walk people through, whether it’s their grief or cancer.
Martin, thank you for sharing that. If someone came to you and they were mad about the difficulties in life, what advice would you give them or what would you say to them?
It’s understandable. One thing that people need to be careful of, especially church folk, is don’t get churchy on people. Don’t get scriptural on people. Don’t do that. You need to understand why people are where they are, accept where they are, and tell them, “One thing you have to do with the grief or whatever you’re going through is be patient with yourself.” I was surprised at how patient I had to be with other people as well. I’m very surprised about that. I’m not a patient person, though Tonya left a lot of peace with me and a lot of her patience. She’s patient to the point where I thought it was a flaw.
Be patient with the process. It’s not easy. I’m not one to pull punches about it. I’m not going to tell them it’s going to be the worst experience ever. The idea is to encourage them, but you have to be real with people where they are and allow them to know that it is okay for you to feel those ways. You can be mad with God all day long. God’s not surprised. He’s not like, “She’s mad at me.” He knew you were going to be mad. He gets it. It’s a matter of you being okay with where you are and working through the process. Especially when you’re going through a loss, part of you is gone. You are not going to get that part back until you go to be with God to begin with and you’re back with them again.
Until you have to walk the rest of this life out, you need to go ahead, be patient with yourself, and take each day at a time. I don’t know how I got through all of this. I really don’t. From the three weeks from the time she passed to the time we did her celebration and I planned the whole entire thing, I don’t know what I did to plan it. I can’t remember any of that. I just know I did, but that was God’s grace on me to get me through it. If they don’t have a relationship with God, it’s going to be much tougher. When something’s broken, you take it back to the manufacturer that created it. It’s no different with yourself.
God created my heart. My heart’s broken. He’s the only one who’s going to be able to help me fix it or work with it now. He understands the fact that part of my heart is now in heaven. Even though my heart is still beating, it’s never going to beat the same way it did before. It’s understanding that you’re never going to be the same person you were again, but you are going to be okay. I don’t say you’re going to be great. I feel like my happiest days are behind me, but it doesn’t mean I don’t have happy days ahead. It is an understanding of that and being okay with that. It’s a matter of listening to people. There’s no answer for everybody. You have to listen to people to understand where they’re at and what they’re feeling. They’re going to ask questions that you’re not going to have the answers to, and it’s okay.
The biggest struggle is people feeling like they have to have the answers when they don’t. My thing is, you don’t have to have the answers. You don’t try telling somebody how to get to where you are when you’ve never been where they’re at now. You’re trying to walk them through the grief that you’ve never suffered before? No. What you need to do is try to be where they’re at with them. It’s okay to say, “I understand that I don’t understand where you’re at. I just want to be here for you. I can shut up and be in the room with you or whatever you need. Know that I’m here for you the best I can be.”
That’s what I would tell most people. It’s not going to be easy, but you can get through it. It takes a long time sometimes. If you’re looking to be the same person you were before, that’s not going to be what you’re trying to do. Try to find the purpose and why whatever happened to you happened and go from there, but take your time with it. Honestly, I’m a few years in, and it’s still tough. It will never ever be all that again, but I’m okay with that because what I had was well worth whatever I go through going forward.
That is some solid advice. You can tell me your thoughts. A lot of times people think you look at the chart of grief, you go through these steps, and then after that, you’re okay. It doesn’t work like that. You can go through those six steps in one hour and have a whole different version of that a month or two later, or a year later. It continues to evolve. I know for me, leaning into the grief moments that were so hurtful instead of trying to turn from them, but leaning in and experiencing them served me better than trying to run away from things that were painful. What are your thoughts on that?
I’m a fixer. I don’t like turning away from problems. I was willing to embrace the grief completely. I didn’t stop from crying. I have cried more in the last two and a half years of my life than I did in the first 50 combined. That’s not an exaggeration. On a daily basis, yes. I embraced it completely because my thing is she’s completely worth crying over. I’m not going to dishonor her memory by acting like I’m fine when I’m not and acting like it doesn’t hurt when it does. I’m not going to act smiley just because it makes somebody else uncomfortable. I embraced it in different ways.
We were both very creative people. I did everything creative in terms of expressing my grief or handling the creative part of it. Making videos or whatever, listening to songs, that spoke for me, not to me. I went out looking for songs and stuff like that. It’s amazing, the songs I found and I have a list of them. It’s called Martin’s Playlist. The songs all hit home at different stages of grief too. Some songs I listened to now, I wouldn’t have listened to right after she passed. Some songs I listened to back then, they still can hit hard.
The one that I played at her celebration was Homesick by MercyMe. I always heard that song and it was always powerful. I never wanted it to be personal. That’s what I did her video too for her celebration. Now, I listened to that song. I probably won’t make it through it ever without tears. Sometimes I know that’s what it needs. Sometimes I know that’s what the moment calls for. It’s like, “I got to get this out of me.” Keeping it contained or whatnot is like shaking a soda bottle. You see what happens with a bottle. That starts expanding. Sometimes you need to take the cap off and let it all come out. I’m quick to do that. Most of the time, it’s in my personal time, and then I’ll make it public in videos or postings.
I keep a journal. One thing about the iPhone is that little Notes app, everything goes in there into a journal. I’m taking the third book from that. I have to edit that because the journal is me speaking my mind quite openly. There are a lot of things that have to be edited out because I name names and say a lot of things because I wasn’t angry at God, but I was angry. What I was angry at was those people that hated on her, were jealous of her, and some people kept her from her gifts and talents because of that jealousy or that hate or whatnot. Some of them were jealous and hatred because of our marriage.
Quite honestly, our marriage was amazing. There were plenty of people that told us that our marriage was their last hope for marriage. The only reason they believed in marriage at all still was because of us. When you have that marriage, and you have other people whose marriage is failing, they look at her and they think she’s just happy-go-lucky. Her favorite song was Alabaster Box. That’s what she always said, “You don’t know the oil in my alabaster box. You have no idea what I’ve been through.” One of her boyfriends tried to kill her. Don’t think her life was easy. She looks like a diva, but that chick has been through some stuff.
That’s what I was angry at. In my journal, I say it all. That’s all going to stay in the journal. That won’t be in the book. Parts of it will be, but I won’t be naming names and doing all that stuff. People will know I’m talking about them, but I don’t need to blast them or anything because it will take away from the point of the book, which is for God to get the glory out of the story.
If someone’s never had a journal and they’ve thought about it, what you would tell them if they were on the edge and thinking, “I don’t think it’s going to do me any good. Journal is not for me?”
The funny thing is I suggested it to somebody. With my journal, I use Siri. I dictate a lot. I wish iPhone would divorce Siri and Mary Alexa because Alexa understands me much better than Siri does. She’s always saying the wrong things and misquoting me. Sometimes she puts curse words in there. I’m like, “I need to rebuke you in the name of Jesus.” The good thing is that I’m able to dictate, and I’m speaking. I’m not typing the journal out, I’m writing because I don’t like doing that. Most of the book is me speaking and talking. There’s plenty in the journal where I’m talking to Tonya directly. I say, “Dear Tonya,” and I start off talking. I don’t know what direction my heart’s going to take me in terms of what’s coming out of my mouth, but I get it out.
It’s good to have it out and expressed. The reason why I find it important is I want to be able to go back five years from now and look at what I was thinking and how I was feeling back then. I know I’m not going to have the same thoughts and feelings five years from now completely. Some of it, I’m going to go back and be like, “I said that? I forgot I said that because I was a little bit hard there.” Nobody is above me blasting them when it comes to the journal. If I have a thought, I get it out there. That journal is not to be shared with anybody. I will set my phone on fire if I have to keep it out there. I highly suggest people, but I suggest they do it by dictating because you’re speaking. You do it as if you’re speaking to the person.
That’s what I did. I’m sitting here talking about like, “Today was one of those days where people made me miss you even more than I did already.” I could be talking for fifteen minutes into that thing and it’s all being copied down. It’s very important because it allows you to express yourself, but sometimes you want to express yourself without having to have somebody react to you. When you say it to a journal, the journal doesn’t talk back to you. If it does, you need to throw your phone out. It’s very important that you get it out there in whatever way you need to, especially when you want to talk to that person that’s no longer there.
What drove you to bring your story to TikTok? I know you said you were doing some things before, but what made you turn that corner and say, “I’m going to put it out there?”
The funny thing is I was never on TikTok before. I’m an introvert, so I’m not big on social media. I was on Facebook and I was making videos on YouTube. I have a ton of my videos, especially the long ones that I made throughout a couple of years. Some are 10 to 12 minutes long. I was on Instagram. I saw different people’s videos. Somebody shared something with me and it got me to TikTok. Finally, I went on TikTok and realized I like TikTok better than Facebook or anything else, especially when you’re going through this grief. You don’t necessarily want to deal with the people that you know all the time.
I love you, people. I love you all. I do, but I don’t always want to be social with you and you know this already. You go on TikTok and it’s funny because you almost want to have two different worlds. I’m not trying to invite my Facebook people or my regular people onto TikTok with me. I go on TikTok and people’s videos may make me laugh. People are funny. They come up with the funniest things. It allows you to get away from the thoughts all the time, which is other people’s stories. I love people’s love stories. Some people think, “I don’t want to see that.” No. What I don’t want to see is, I don’t want to see the fighting. I don’t want to see taking your loved one or your spouse for granted. That’s what ticks me off.
I like TikTok going on there and seeing the positive things, the funny things, and all those things. I started sharing some of mine. My videos are not TikTok videos for the most part. They’re just my videos. For me, if anybody gets ministered at them, it’s cool, but I don’t make videos for TikTok. I just make videos. For me, it is expressing how I’m feeling and I just put them on there. It was tough when I realized like, “Three minutes? That’s not long enough for me to express what I’m thinking most of the time.” I then realized they bumped it up to ten minutes. I get it. Most people don’t watch the ten-minute ones. I understand. It’s all good.
You can make ten-minute TikTok videos? I did not know that. That’s good to know.
Somehow along the way, they added it. Don’t get me wrong, you probably can’t get 50 people to view it. The last one I did have the most views that quickly. I was like, “I guess it’s because it’s shorter.”
What video was that?
That was the one I did with the AARP.
I know they don’t see the video, but just talk about what that was. What was the motivation for that?
I had joked about it before. I haven’t gone to the club since my college years and whatnot. I was laughing about the fact that I’m not a gym person. The only club I go to now is AARP. I got my AARP card. I was sitting in the car, leaving the church, and I’m at a stoplight. I’m thinking about the song. I then start bobbing my head, and then I hit record for the video. I pulled out my AARP card and put it up there. I was like, “If you want to find me in a club, this is the only one you’re going to find me.”
It was hilarious. You were just sitting there. I was wondering if you were driving or if you were parked, and then a car comes up real slow. That is hilarious.
I was at a stoplight. The funny thing is I did a couple of different takes, but the first one was the one that worked out the best because I was at a stoplight. I’m in my Corvette. I’m not driving my Corvette and not looking where I’m going. I had the phone sitting there on the pad. I hit record and the light was red. I was able to do all that. The light turned green and that was the end of the video anyway, so I hit stop and kept it moving.
Going back to TikTok, there are so many people on there. Are people messaging you? Are people talking to you about their grief more than the comments that people are making?
One of the t-shirts I made up might not sell a lot, but I think it’s funny. I put a t-shirt on my thing that says, “Don’t hate the follower. Hate the algorithm.” Most of the time, it’s because your followers don’t see your videos and whatnot because the algorithm puts them aside. What I’m realizing with TikTok with the algorithm is it’s sending a lot of videos for grief and cancer my way. I get a lot of people’s grieving videos coming through. I view them. I have no doubt about that because whether the word grief or cancer is in their hashtag, I see a lot of them now.
I feel inclined to comment on some. I’m not one to sit there and try to do every one of them. It’s whatever is laid on my heart. When I saw your videos, I took to those. Those were videos that meant something to me and I could speak on those. Between the algorithm and God, He’s sending the right things my way. I’ve gotten to know some people. Some people have reached out to me and messaged me after I’ve put comments on their videos. I’m just helping them navigate their way through.
I’m not doing much more than helping them realize what they’re feeling and what they’re thinking. You don’t even know what you’re thinking. You don’t know what you’re feeling. Everything is crazy, mixed up, and you don’t know what. All I’m doing most of the time is speaking to them about what it is they’re feeling or what it is they’re going through. I get a lot of, “Yes, that right there.” It’s because I get it. God has allowed me to feel a lot, understand what I’m feeling, and think about what I’m feeling a lot to the point where I can understand people, not even loss in the same way.
It doesn’t even have to be a loss of a spouse. Loss of mother, sister, brother, or child, to a degree, I understand it. I just understand what they’re thinking and feeling. Why that’s a blessing to me is I was doing that a lot with Tonya. We’ve always encouraged each other. We had a contracting business, but I’ll tell you that I’ve never built anything as much as she’s built me up.
In terms of me, I built her up even more so. I miss that. Having that love to share with somebody, that’s the hardest thing to not have anymore, and having that person to encourage. Now, other people get the benefit by me sharing with them what I would share with her. In terms of encouraging them and trying to build them up. I get that’s part of my purpose.
How is your son doing in Tonya’s absence?
He’s doing well. Honestly, he’s helped me a lot and keeps me pushing. At the time when she passed, he was out on his own and he was living in an apartment. The next year, he ended up moving back in and it’s been great. He works with me a lot. He’s got skills. He put the flooring in our family room when he was thirteen. Now, our basement went unfinished for the first eleven years we had this house.
The Christmas before this last one, he started working on the basement, putting flooring down. He got a hustle going where he would sell some things, and then buy flooring to keep putting down. We finished the entire basement. He did 85% of the basement, and it’s a Marvel theme. I made a TikTok video about that too. It turned out amazing. It has theater seating, he has a game area, he had the whole Marvel timeline, and there’s even a firing range in the back of it.
I need to go through your TikTok. I don’t think I saw that one. I want to see the one about the lady coming home. What are your plans for 2023? What do you see yourself doing for the remaining of 2023? Can you even see through 2023?
I’m laughing because our church does vision boards at the beginning of January like everybody else does. My vision board in 2021 was, “See you in 2022.” That was it. That was all on my vision board. My vision board for 2022 was, “See you in 2023.” My vision board for 2023 was, “Let’s get these books done.” What I need to get done, and I plan to get done by August 7th, which is the date of her passing, is both the first books. When I say done, I mean done, at least to the point where they’re ready for publishing. I decided not to work on publishing the first one and editing the first one until it’s done the second one. I know there are going to be things from the second one I want to go back and put in the first one.
Writing a book when you have ADD is a struggle. You jump all over the place with thoughts. I’m not normal. I’m not a writer. I don’t consider myself an author. Writing is another creative avenue for me, but it’s not me. I’m never going to call myself an author. If you want to call me a writer, I write. That is my goal. It’s to get them both done by August 7th on her passing date and then finish the grief book, which has been writing itself for the most part. I just have to organize those thoughts. That one’s important, I know because it’s going to help people understand grieving people better.
It’s not instructional at all. It’s just me expressing myself in terms of how I feel, how I’ve seen things, and how I feel about the way people try to talk to you through your grief process. I’ll say in there that please don’t have your feelings be hurt if you said some of these things to me. I don’t hold it against you. I just want you to understand that I don’t want to hear the same old thing. Some people sound like they’re a Christian t-shirt store when they’re talking to you in terms of your grief.
I want you to dive into that, Martin. I want you to talk about what comes to your mind. One of the things about this show is there are people reading that have someone that they love that’s grieving and they don’t want to say that dumb thing. They think they’re coming off as encouraging. Talk about some of those things because people need to know, “Don’t say that.”
There are a lot of things not to say. The first thing I would say is don’t feel like you need to say something. First of all, if you don’t know what to say, that’s because there’s nothing to say sometimes. Be there. That’s it. If you send a text message in a day like, “You’re on my mind. I’m thinking about you. I’d like to come visit you. I don’t need you to even speak. I don’t need you to say anything. I just want to be there with you.”
One thing I’ve been telling people is to do like Oprah. If you’re talking to them, be like an interviewer. Oprah only talks long enough to keep you talking. That’s what a good interviewer does. They ask you a question for you to answer. You’re great at it. That’s the thing. That’s what you do. You don’t sit there and try to relate. That’s one of the biggest things I’ll say. For the love of God, please don’t try to relate. If you haven’t gone through their grief at all, please do not try to relate. I’m going to say this because I’ve had people relate on different levels, but I will make a point that will make it a little easier at the end. I’ve had people like, “I know just how you feel. I lost my grandmother.”
I’m sorry for your grandmother being gone, but it’s not the same.
You miss rolling over and seeing your grandmom in bed with you. Is that what you’re saying? Do you miss those intimate moments with your grandmom? I don’t think so. Stop it. You don’t know. Don’t do that. Also, people even with divorce. I had one person. I don’t know him. I know him well enough, but he’s like, “I think we should get together. I’m going through it too from this divorce.” Like I said, thank God Tonya left her peace and patience with me because I’m thinking to myself, “I didn’t even like your wife. Please don’t compare her to my wife and me losing her. Don’t make that comparison. It is not the same. Stop that.”
Where I’ll bring it together and the thing that is similar is when you go through a divorce and lose this person, your whole world has been blown up. That’s where I’ll give you the similarity. You’ve had your whole world blown up. Your love for your spouse was not the same as mine because you went through a divorce. There’s no way it was on the same level, but your world is now blown up and you now have to figure out where you fit into this whole entire life. That I will agree with them on is that you can relate on that level.
In terms of relating to the loss level, no, because it just is what it is. In terms of going forward with other things, I would tell them to say, “Don’t relate. Don’t try to speak if you don’t know what to say. If you are going to speak, think first. Don’t be quick to feel. This is not a speed question. You’re not on a game show where you had to hit the buzzer and give an answer right away. Think before you speak.” I have some amazing people around me who are very good at that. I’ve been amazed at who God put around me after this. They’re very good at thinking before they speak, text, or whatever they do. What they say ministers to me and it means a lot to me because I know they put thought into it.
Before you say anything, think about it first. It is what I want somebody to say to me or I am saying something to make myself feel better because I said something to you to try to make you feel better. Now I feel better and now I can pat myself on the shoulder because I said my due, because I’ve had people do the check-in thing, “I’m checking on you to see how you’re doing.” I left my phone on Do Not Disturb. I didn’t call a lot of people back. I didn’t even check messages. I probably didn’t even know a lot of people called because I didn’t even look at my phone like that. I just delete everything.
Don’t just send a text checking on somebody, especially if you send that message, I respond to you, and then you don’t even respond back ever again. What is that? That’s how I know you just did a check-in. “I feel better now, I did the check-in, and I’m a good person. I did my job, Lord. Give me my treasure in heaven when I get there.” No, don’t do that. Don’t tell them what to do because I don’t know what it is about people that think when you’re grieving and when you’re going through a loss that, all of a sudden, I don’t know how to think straight and you need to tell me everything I should be doing. I’m like, “No.” There are certain people and I love them. They mean well.
Another one right there is don’t tell them what to do. Try to be there in whatever way you can. I vented to certain people about the frustrations of dealing with people who say dumb things and say insensitive things and stuff like that. Their response was just as bad as the things that people say because their response was, “They mean well.” If I had a nickel or a penny for every time somebody meant well, I could retire right now. That’s for sure. I don’t want to hear that either. I don’t want to hear that they mean well or they have good intentions.
The one with good intentions, I understand that because what do they say the road to hell is paved with? Good intentions. I certainly feel like I’m on that road to hell. You feel like you’re going through hell when you’re going through this grief period. The good intentions, I get that because I’m in hell and that’s what you’re paving my road with is your good intentions.
I’m trying to think of other things. We could talk forever in terms of things not to say, but I would say to be sensitive and think through what it is you want to say or do first. Try to understand what they can possibly be going through before you open your mouth. It’s okay to say, “I understand.” It is understanding the triggers of grief. When you first lose a loved one, I consider the trigger. When you’re first going through the grief, the trigger is attached to a bomb as opposed to a gun, a bomb with a sensitive switch on it. It is any tiny little thing, it doesn’t have to be anything.
You could say one word which triggers it. It’s not your fault, but it may end up being your situation because you might end up having to handle them crying or breaking down in front of you because you said something. It’s not your fault. Like I said, even if you said the word Shih Tzu to me, we had a dog named Tiki and we had a dog named Marley. Tiki died in August of 2016 right in front of the fireplace. Tonya died in August of 2020 right in front of the fireplace. Marley died in 2021 right in front of the fireplace. You could say fireplace and that could be a trigger for me.
It’s really that simple. It’s not always your fault, but you might still have to deal with it. You might not understand, “Why are they falling apart? All I’ve said was cereal.” It could be anything. Just understand it, especially initially right at a time. There doesn’t have to reason be a reason for the grief. There doesn’t have to be a trigger and whatnot. Everything is a trigger. Like I said, it’s like a bomb exploding that gets sensitive. As it turns into the trigger of a gun, one thing I tell people is the problem with the triggers is the gun is always pointed at your already broken heart when you hit that trigger. It’s one of those things where it’s like, “I was already feeling bad enough.” It doesn’t take anything.
In that first year, I was walking down the steps one time. I hit the third step. For some reason, I had to stop and ball right there on the step. Out of nowhere, it hit me. Grief doesn’t care. It sucker punches you everywhere and there’s no way of ducking and diving, bobbing and weaving. You can’t get around it. It’s going to hit you. You feel and you look like Rocky at the end of Rocky 1 and Rocky 2 before he feeds us all beat up. That’s what grief does to you and there’s no defense at all. You just have to understand that you’re going to go through it, they’re going to go through it, and you need to just be there. That’s the best I can say. Shut up and be there.
Those are some really good points. I love when you said it’s not your fault. I think a lot of times people are skittish about being around someone that’s in the deep throws of grief because they’re trying to figure out, “What do I say or not say that’s not going to make them upset or make them emotional?” It is if you can get to the point that anything you say could not make them emotional.
The second part of that is you want to be there. If you’re just there silent, we could be watching our favorite TV program. We’re not talking about anything. You’re just being next to me and being close. Don’t be afraid. Talk to me like I’m normal. Talk to me like I’m a regular person. You may say hello and it may make me cry because it’s going to make me cry because I’m alive. Once you get outside of yourself and say, “This is not about me. I’m just going to be in their presence. If they cry, they cry. If they don’t, they don’t. I don’t control this” and just be there, that goes such a long way.
It takes the tension out of the room. Like you said what Tonya did with that lady, when you go in with your energy and know what your purpose is to be there, you’re there to change the atmosphere a little bit at a time. It’s not going to happen all at once. You’re not going to come in with your magic words and wipe away the grief. You’re just there for this peak of it.
One thing I’ve realized is to forget about the titles in terms of you could have pastors, elders, ministers, or deacons. Forget about that. That’s not going to be what matters. They’re not going to be ones that necessarily matter. Yes, they might matter, but it’s not because they’re a pastor, elder, minister, or a deacon. There are people who look up to me and I have an easier time talking to them than I do other people because they know how to be quiet and listen. They’re silent and they listen. Somehow, it’s easy and comfortable talking to them.
Other people were just like, “I need to get out of this room because this is uncomfortable.” You’re not comfortable and I’m not comfortable because I’m too tired to try to make you comfortable and make you feel okay that I’m not okay. People sometimes feel like because they have a title, they need to be doing something for you. No. I even told my pastors, “You can’t walk me through this because you’ve never been through what I’m going through.” They’re a husband and wife team in an awesome and amazing marriage. “I don’t want you to ever experience what I’m going through. You can’t walk me through this. You can support me through this, but you’re not going to be able to walk me through this because you’ve never been on this.”
I want to free people from thinking that your title means you have to do this. No. If you don’t have a gift of listening, which some people don’t, then it might not be for you. If you’re somebody that makes everything about you, you need to go the furthest away from a grieving person as you can get. Bury yourself in the sand. Go kick rocks with open-toed shoes, I don’t care, but stay away from the grieving people because when you make things all about you, you’re the wrong person to be around. I had to deal with somebody who selfishly started coming in and talking to me right before Christmas about their problems. That didn’t go well. That was my first Christmas without her. They came in sharing their problems. That didn’t go well at all. They got the wrong side of me.
That is fair. When my husband, Mark, passed, I tried to go through the Rolodex of my mind and think, “Did I say things like this to people that had loved ones that died? What were my thoughts and how different it is now to be on this side that it’s not something I could have ever explained to someone what this looks like, but my perspective is different?” Have you ever thought about what Martin may have said beforehand versus what Martin would say now? As you said, the grief is relative. Your ability to be sympathetic or have empathy for somebody is different than beforehand.
I’ve always tried to be sensitive in terms of saying things. I don’t like to say the same old anyway. I’m not that person. I don’t like saying things that have been said a million times. I remember certain things I would say to people before. I don’t remember a lot of cases, but I remember one time somebody lost their mother and I said, “Praying over your pain and praising God for her promotion” because that’s how I feel about it.
We’re a very interesting people in terms of, when you pass, you tell, “They’re in a better place now.” That’s what everybody says. “She’s in a better place.” I never like to say these things I’ve always heard somebody else say. At least be original. I don’t care if you say the same thing, find a different way to say it. I don’t care if you learn how to say it in sign language or a different language, just say something original instead of saying the same old because we get so tired of it.
Certain things, they mean well, but I think that’s one of the tough things. When we tell people, “They’re in a better place now,” we then turn around and say, “Thank God, because you woke up this morning. You had breath in your lungs and you have feet to walk.” Wait a minute. Which is it? Should I be happy that she’s in heaven and that’s where I want to be or should I be happy that I’m here alive? Which is it?
I get both points. The main goal in both pieces is to encourage. I get that, but when you send some mixed messages, sometimes it gets a little old. Especially when that’s what you’re told time and time again, “Be happy that you woke up this morning.” I think what they don’t understand is that works for the churchy folk. That doesn’t work for the hurting people because the hurting people didn’t necessarily want to wake up this morning if we’re being very real about it.
They were in so much pain when they woke up this morning. They knew they had to face another hellish day. They didn’t want to go through that day. They would’ve been happy. Sometimes you do, you stay in bed and you lay there all day long because that’s all you feel like doing. Somebody trying to tell you, “Be happy you’re alive.” I don’t want to be alive. If we’re being real, there are days when we don’t want to be alive. It’s not the same thing as saying we’re suicidal. No, I’d rather be dead, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to kill myself. Can we get real about that?
Yes. That part right there is so real, Martin. I remember not going back to work for three months. I remember lying in bed for days on end. The idea of existence outside of Mark’s presence was more than I could comprehend. That didn’t mean I wanted to take my life. It was the idea of the work that was required to create this new life, to develop what Tina was without saying Mark and Tina. That’s so important for people to understand. I could not say Tina without saying Mark and Tina. I didn’t even know how to come out of my mouth like that.
I was very apprehensive about saying I didn’t want to be alive because I didn’t want someone to. I do understand there are some people that have thought about taking their life. If that is you, then I want you to call suicide prevention, call a crisis hotline immediately. If you know someone that is thinking actively about committing suicide, call a suicide prevention line immediately and rescue them from that because grief can become so deep that it can take you there.
What Martin and I are talking about in this instance is the idea of life. The absence of that person doesn’t seem like something I wanted to sign up for. This is not what I agreed to. When people hear that, they’re automatically thinking, “They’re about to do this.” No. I’m just trying to be honest with you about how hard it is to live in their absence if I understand you correctly.
I remember thinking this and saying this very early on. It might have been in the first couple of weeks or so. I wanted my story to be part of our story. Not our story to be part of my story. There’s a big difference. I wanted me to just be part of the overall package of walking out the rest of this life as being Tonya and Martin. Not Martin, Tonya and Martin, and back to Martin again. I never envisioned that, never thought that, never felt that. It’s very hard, especially when you’re in a marriage where you truly became one and part of you is now spirit. You’re sitting there, part of you is feeling like this is where the reality where people are like, “I don’t feel like this is real.”
The reason why is because part of you is now a spirit. You’re physically here, but part of you is there. It’s like, “I feel like I’m not even in the world anymore because part of me isn’t.” Trying to navigate through that, I did her program for her homegoing celebration. I wrote a letter to her there. That’s what I talk about. It is the fact that I’m now trying to get to a home I’ve never been to before and I’m homesick for a home I’ve never been to before. My home is where she’s home now, so here, home is not home. This is our house and all that, but no, I have to wait to get home. I don’t know how long that is. You can’t hurry the process. If you end your life, you’re not going home. There’s that.
It’s a strange dimension of wondering what heaven is really like. You’re sitting there driving. You’re looking up at the blue sky with the clouds. It’s like they’re there somewhere. They’re beyond there. It’s a tough thing to never realize that you’re going to live out the rest of your life without them here. She passed exactly one week after I turned 50. Fifty seems like the AARP thing joke. Fifty seems like you’re getting old. Fifty felt extremely young as soon as she passed. I felt like I had way too much of this life left to live without her after she passed.
Before then, I can live to 113, but now I’m looking at 50, I was like, “I got so much life left to live, and it has to happen without her being here.” It’s a tough thing to take. It’s a tough thing to walk through. It seems like a long way to go. I also like to believe in purpose. Life is not about living a long life. Life is about living your life on purpose. When your purpose is up, your purpose is up. It’s not according to what my purpose is for Tonya, because if my purpose for Tonya would be her being here until we started saying not, “Until death do us part,” we said, “Until the rapture.” We’re getting raptured together. Me and you are going to be gone and we’re in the rapture. Forget about the whole death thing, though. We’re going to be good.
It’s trying to figure out how long I’m going to live and I never get sick. I’m like, “Am I going to live as long as I feel like I’m going to live?” I’ve never been hospitalized. I’ve never broken a bone. I get sick maybe once a year. Even COVID was not even that big a deal for me. I feel like I have way too much life left to live, but at the same time, I have to live all the purpose out and that’s all there is to it, whatever God’s purpose is. We don’t know what God’s purpose is for somebody altogether. I get what Tonya’s purpose is and I’ll end the third book talking about that. She claimed to be the miracle and she was the miracle, just not completely in the way that she thought of.
Have people asked you about the dating thing or would you get remarried? Has that question come your way?
Yeah. I’ll be real. Some people ask just because they love me. Some people want me to find somebody so that they can see me comfortable again, so my grief will be over so they can be comfortable around me again. The bottom line is I’ll never date again and I’ll never marry again. That’s me, though. It’s not a judgment against anybody who decides to move on. I tell them this way. “Tonya didn’t just set the bar high. She took the bar with her.” There is nobody after her, and I’m fine with that.
I lived the first 50 years of my life being about relationships. Hers being the godly one and just about everyone before that being the ungodly one. I’ve been there and done that enough. The rest of my life is about God and what God has for me to do. There’s no purpose that I could see in me being in another relationship. There isn’t. I don’t see any purpose in it. It’s not me being emotional because most people thought it was me being emotional. There was that at first, but I’ve always been rational about it. There is nobody after her.
Some people that have been in that marriage understand that even if they go on, and I’m fine with people moving on and finding somebody else. Some people seem to do it a little bit, but I get it. It does seem like men move on and get married or find somebody else a lot quicker than women. I credit that to two things, if you want to call it credit, maybe that’s a bad word to use. I say that for a couple of reasons. First of all, let’s be honest, men have a lot easier time finding a good woman than women have a time finding a good man these days. That’s just the truth. It doesn’t have to be you going through grief or whatnot. It’s just a lot harder to find a good man. Don’t blame the system. Don’t blame whatever the reasons are, that’s not the point. The point is you have a hard lot harder time finding.
Secondly, if we’re being honest, I know some people get offended if I say this and anything, but it’s true. It’s like women are more emotional and they hold things longer than men for the most part. It is harder for them to let go of what they had, even when it’s something bad. There are women who have been in bad and even abusive relationships who don’t let go of them. If they lose a spouse suddenly, they have a hard time getting past that to move forward. Between the fact that there’s hardly anybody to move forward to and the fact that you have a hard time letting go to move forward, it’s really hard for women to find somebody new.
As for me, it’s nothing to do with anybody else in this world. It’s just that I had a marriage and a wife that was out of this world. That’s where I’m at. She left enough love behind for me to take me through the rest of my days. Honestly, I could sit there. It doesn’t matter how many years I have left, I could tell stories about our relationship to last. I feel like John talking about it in the Book of Revelations how all the things or all the miracles that happened. That wasn’t in the Book of Revelations, but you know what I’m saying. I could talk about her forever.
We have stories upon stories about everything. I have a book that I might be writing and it’ll be a picture book on her charm bracelet, which has all these charms from every single event and every single special occasion we ever had in our marriage. I could tell you a story about each one of them because I picked each one individually. Between that and the 765 date nights that we had, we only missed 8 Tuesdays in almost 15 years.
The last one was because she was in the hospital the day before she started hospice. We didn’t miss those Tuesdays. Everybody knew. Don’t bother calling us on Tuesday. Pastors wouldn’t call us on Tuesday because they knew you were not going to get us. Our phones are away and it’s time spent together. It doesn’t have to be a great date going out. Most of the time it was in the living room. It was spending time together and dedicating that time to each other. It happened every Tuesday.
This has been good. Martin, I’m going to reference a widow, but it can be anyone. If they’re saying, “I don’t think I could do this. This is too hard. This love that I had was too amazing. Why do I want to keep living?” what would you say to them?
I would say, it’s hard for people to live when they don’t know their purpose anyway. Myles Munroe said, “Where purpose is unknown, abuse is inevitable.” What that means is no matter where you are in life, whether it’s married or unmarried, if you don’t know what your purpose is in life, you don’t know right away. I didn’t know my purpose is going to be doing this until she passed. In terms of walking people through grief and writing books, it is hard. God said right up front, “Things are going to be hard. If you follow me, it’s going to be a hard life.”Where purpose is unknown, abuse is inevitable. Click To Tweet
You’re not going to be satisfied with anything if you’re not doing what you’re purposed to do. It’s hard to know what that is. Sometimes you have to be patient until that comes to pass because sometimes you have to be prepared for that purpose. If this had happened to Tonya early on in our marriage, I probably would’ve been mad at God because I wouldn’t have had the understanding. He wouldn’t have taken me through all the things that built my faith in Him. How He carried and brought us through all these crazy situations that we went through. I understand people being angry with God. What I think is important for them to do is when you are so angry, you can’t see straight. You can’t see the bigger picture. You’re not even trying to see the bigger picture.
A lot of people ask why. They ask why this happened and I get that question. I don’t have that question of why I don’t have to have the main reason why. There are enough reasons that I can think of in terms of why this happened and why it went down the way it did. A lot of people don’t understand why they lost a loved one, why they lost their son or their daughter, why they were murdered, and all this stuff. It’s hard for them to understand what they’re supposed to do and what their purpose is because their purpose was in that love for that person that they lost.
Now, what do I do when I don’t have that person to love anymore? I don’t have that person to love me anymore the way they did it in such a special way. It’s funny. I was at the grocery store and there was a street cat in the parking lot. I was like, “There are so many street cats.” They don’t mean anything to anyone. My son has two cats here and they looked exactly like the street cats except for the fact that I know them. I know their personality. I know how they are. He’s affectionate. If you put him on the street, he looked like a street cat. Just because I know his personality and how lovey-dovey he is, it means something more to me. It’s the purpose of knowing what something is there for and or not knowing, which is where the struggle comes in.
Sometimes it’s like the mother whose son got killed by a drunk driver and she started mad. She created a purpose out of that. Purpose does not remove pain at all. Pain is usually what pushes the purpose forward because pain is what makes you want to make sure something happens to make this better. When I was talking at her celebration, I said, “Cancer picked the wrong family. You picked the wrong mayors to mess with” because all this is going to do is make me go out there. I can’t do anything. I’m not about to get my go to become an oncologist, but I can help people with their fight in terms of supporting them and encouraging them in whatever way I can so that cancer doesn’t win overall.
With my wife, another reason for cremating her was I wanted the cancer to die and I wanted it to be burned up. God took her already. She was already gone. It’s like a car accident. The car got totaled and the driver’s okay. When you got God and you got Jesus, He takes the driver out and the car is destroyed, that’s her body. I know she’s okay, but the car is gone. With that car or with her body, cancer is a stupid thing because it’s on a murder-suicide mission. It kills the same person and it kills itself by doing so. That’s the way I look at it in trying to find your purpose in why this happened. It’s not going to be always obvious. Some people will never know, but that’s what I think is most important.
It’s a harder struggle without knowing that and without trying to find that out and figure out what you can do to make things better, to honor the memory of the person you lost that makes things better for you. I’m honoring my wife’s memory with the nonprofit and the different things I do for her. By teaching people still, helping people with their marriages, by things that we learned along the way, and by her being an amazing example of a wife. She was that Proverbs 31 woman. I tell some people, I’m like, “Some of you all are more of that Proverbs 19 woman. Better to live on the corner of the roof than a house with a nagging wife.”
Some of you thinking Proverbs 31. You need to subtract a little bit.
If you’re tuning in, I want you to read Proverb 31 and Proverbs 19 and let us know which one you are. Give us some input after you do that reading.
I’m pretty sure his Proverbs 19. Let’s put it this way. He said it three different times in Proverbs about living in a house with a nagging wife. It should tell you a lot. You miss it the first time, you had a second time and a third time to catch it. Maybe you need to catch on a little bit.
I don’t know it offhand, but you can google the verse about it’s better to live on the top of a roof than with an angry wife. Martin, this has been great. Thank you. Are any comments closing before we wrap up?
I don’t even know what I would say other than to make sure that people are doing things like this. Tuning into your show and being part of a grief group does help. I thank you for it because I’m not good with this thing in terms of I couldn’t have my own because I’m not made that way to have that consistency and all that stuff going on the ADD takes me away. I so appreciate yours and other people’s groups. I do think it’s important for people. It sounds so typical. “I’ll go to therapy or be part of a group” but it is what helps. If you want to get away from the people who don’t understand, even though you love them and they love you, you need to find somebody. In this conversation right here, I’m leaving this feeling much better just being able to share, so I thank you greatly for it.
I’ve watched some of your other ones. They’re awesome and amazing. The things that get shared, they’re really important and it helps people get insight and perspective greater than they possibly can anywhere else. Knowing somebody’s going through what you’re going through in one way or another is the only way you’re going to get better. It’s like, “I see her. She’s hurting, but she doesn’t look like she’s hurting, but she’s hurting.” I want to get to that point. The only way I can get to that point is by being around people like her. It’s like who you hang out with is who you become. That’s what our bishop says all the time, and it’s true.
We don’t call it healed because we don’t ever feel like we’re healed from this, but if you want to somehow feel like you’re living again, you need to get around people that have been through it and are living again. That’s my biggest suggesting advice to anybody. Make sure you spend time getting into these groups. Honestly, online is a lot easier sometimes than getting a therapist because you can jump on at any time. I can go watch your videos from last month, last year, or whatever. I don’t have to wait for a therapist. I can watch any time I want to get something out of it and you’ll always get something out of it. It could be the littlest thing, the littlest nugget, but it will be the nugget that changes your day.
I think that’s the most important thing for people. To make sure you have people around you. The people God put around me during this battle were some of our friends, one that I consider a big sister. This will be my last thing, but when I was on the road, our friend lost her husband who was a great brother, great father, and great husband 3 months and 2 days earlier than my wife. It was devastating because he was an awesome man. When we found out, it was devastating.
Early on, we went through that grief together. When I was on the road, I have my funny moments in saying funny things. I sent her a message. I was like, “You think it would be appropriate when it comes time for you and me to have to minister to other people? If the first person we have to minister to, do you think it would be okay if we slapped them in the back of the head because we went through all this to help them?” My baby’s like, “Thank you. I went through this because I got a minister to you later on.”
I understand that. I said to her, “I do understand that means that somebody like Sarah would be snacking us on the back of our heads right now too because she went through what she went through to help us.” That’s the thing. You grab onto somebody that’s been through what you’re going through, they help you, and you help the next person along. That way, nobody’s starting from scratch. You’re not starting from point zero, you’re starting from a little bit of experience that they can give you to help you out to almost like a little bit of a cheat sheet for grief.
That is solid. Thank you for that recommendation. Two things come to mind when you say that, Martin. Going back to something we talked about where people are giving you comments, at the point when my husband died, I didn’t need someone to tell me, you’re not going for this for yourself, you’re going for this for somebody else. You almost got slapped right then. Not waiting until later because what I needed you to do was acknowledge my current pain, my current grief, and my current hurt. I understand that God can take my pain and make it into purpose later as he is doing now.
At that moment, I don’t need you to give me churchdom. I don’t need you to give me all those good answers. What I need you to see is I have to go home and go to that bed by myself. I have to go to make dinner by myself with those dishes and sit at the table that we sat at together. I still trust God, but this process and pain, I have to go through. I need you to understand that. When that pain does get turned into purpose, that’s when I need to hear those encouraging words that that’s what God did and this is where we’re going with that.
That is critical to know. Just to be able to say yes, I do need to be with people that can understand me because I don’t have to sanitize what I’m going to say. I don’t have to package this in a way that’s palatable by the sheer fact that you may have lost your spouse. Our grief is different because your marriage was unique and mine was unique, but you understand the concept of this pain. You understand the concept of the level of grief that I’m going through. It makes it a safe space to be able to have someone that understands me and what I’m going through and I can easily express what that is. If you’re not able to find someone, a therapist is huge and important in this process to be able to do that and to connect to somebody.
Shameless plug, Widowhood Real Talk With Tina does have a private Facebook group. That private group is for the idea to be able to share some things we may not want to put on the public group because it is a different conversation to be able to be had. Martin, thank you so much for bringing a male voice to this conversation and for other men to know it’s okay to share your pain.
I think it is important because it’s taken for granted what we’re thinking and what we’re saying, or if we’re not thinking or saying anything. I appreciate it, anytime.
I feel like there will be a part two. We have talked almost for two hours and I feel like there’s still more untapped information. We probably will have a part two, but we’re going to wrap up for now because this will be a lot for people to digest, but I think it will be helpful. Thank you so much, Martin. Have a great evening.
Thank you. You have a great evening too. We will do part two. No problem.
Have a good night.
This was by far the longest conversation I’ve had since starting this show. Martin was worth every minute. I am so grateful that he accepted my response that I randomly sent to him through TikTok to have a conversation. I’m glad for him to bring a male perspective to grief. I know that we’re in a day and time where we don’t always separate men and women, but we do go through different journeys. I’m glad for Martin to be able to share because there are not a lot of widowers out there sharing their stories. I am grateful for him to join the conversation and I’m grateful for you if you stayed in for all two hours of it. Have a good day. Talk to you later.
- MTAC – More Than A Conqueror, Inc – Facebook
- Widowhood Real Talk With Tina – Facebook Group
- MTAC – More Than A Conqueror By Illya Scott
- “Homesick” (My final video from a homegoing celebration) – YouTube
- “Stay” (changing the dream boutique closet I built for her into a memory and prayer area) – YouTube
- In Loving Memory Playlist – YouTube
- TikTok – Martin Owens
- MTAC – More Than A Conqueror Inc – Extreme Makeover For Breast Cancer Conqueror, Jessie – YouTube
About Martin Owens
Martin Owens met Tonya Tribbett on March 5, 2004. Martin and his son Quintin proposed to Tonya on March 12, 2005, at a church event in front of everyone in attendance.
They were married on October 8, 2005, and even Tonya and Quintin exchanged mother/son vows.
Martin worked for Home Depot doing kitchen cabinet refacing before starting his home improvement business, Much Improved LLC, in 2007. Tonya worked 21 years at Comcast before joining Martin in 2017 to run the home improvement business, her wedding and event coordinating business, “A Touch of Elegance,” and their other business, “Giving You Props,” creating decor, furniture, and stage props. Tonya and Martin both served in several ministries, with Tonya mainly serving in Praise and worship and the women’s ministry. In contrast, Martin served in the sound booth and the youth ministry, and they served together in the marriage ministry and became certified Christian marriage counselors. They did the premarital counseling for several couples and coordinated the weddings for a few. Along the way, Martin became a deacon at Victory, and Tonya joined the women’s ministry and took on the decor and some coordinating of the events the church held. But no matter how much they served, they ensured they put their marriage first, and every Tuesday night was date night! Seven hundred sixty-five date nights in all. In almost 15 years of marriage, they only missed eight Tuesdays and made up for four ahead of time.
In June 2017, Tonya was diagnosed with stage three triple negative breast cancer. And although she beat it and was considered cancer free for over a year. During that time, being the diva that she was, Tonya started making fashionable facemasks, so they launched “Facial Xpressions” in October 2018 during a celebration of life at Martin Through for his wife. But in late May 2019, Tonya was re-diagnosed with stage four cancer in her lung; the breast cancer they thought was gone had become metastatic. And although she was beating cancer in her lung, it was discovered that it also traveled to her brain, and despite her best efforts, on August 7, 2020, she went home to be with the Lord. But not before Martin coordinated the biggest drive-by parade ever heard of in a residential area where between 250 and 275 cars, holding somewhere between 500 to 650 people, drove by their house for two hours straight as the overwhelmed Tonya waved from the sidewalk.
From the beginning of her first diagnosis, Tonya had started writing a book about her breast cancer experience and kept a journal of her thoughts and experiences. With some of Tonya’s girlfriends, who offered to be ghostwriters for the book, Martin has finished the rough draft of her book and is now working on the second and third books. The second one witnesses his wife’s second battle with cancer and her fantastic walk and relationship with God. The second expresses his grieving experience in an authentic and raw way. And sometime later, they plan to write a third book, combining their life stories as they eventually become one.
Four months before Tonya passed, Tonya and Martin founded “MTAC- More Than A Conqueror Inc.” A nonprofit organization set up to support families going through cancer battles! Martin has spent his time helping several people and families who are battling cancer, whether doing home repairs or improvements to their houses, extreme makeovers, or just plain being there to talk and walk with them through the process; Martin has been blessed to be able to honor his wife still while helping others the way she would’ve wanted to and planned to.