Tamara, my good friend passed away this month. She was only 40 years old. Thirteen months earlier she had been diagnosed with Stage 4 Breast Cancer that had metastasized to her brain, bones, liver, and stomach. She fought a valiant fight to survive. She did not want to leave her 4 children. I was honored to be asked to speak at her funeral service. I want to share my thoughts on my friend who passed away way before her time. The following are the words I spoke at her funeral service. We all know someone who either has or had cancer; thus this disease affects us all. Please, let me take this opportunity to encourage every women to have their annual mammogram.
The name of the church and the family names have been changed for privacy sake.
Thank you all for coming to Tamara’s service. My name is Patricia, and Tamara and I were very good friends. Today, I have two “notes” to share with you - one from me and then one from my husband Joe. But, first, I will like to share my remembrances of a lovely lady.
Tamara was a praying woman. She shared with me about how scared she was when she moved to Houston from Pennsylvania. But, she said that her parents always told her to PRAY, PRAY, PRAY. She wasn’t going to church, but her mom said, “Tamara, you were raised in church – you need to take the children to church.” Her mom gave her the idea to go to the closest church. That was this church – Fruits Baptist Church. She told me she remembers the pastor saying one day that, “You don’t have to feel lonely!” The next day Tamara she attended a Sunday School Class. She claimed she used to be shy, but she prayed, “God, who can I talk to?” It was in that Sunday School class that she told me once that God provided and it was through that class that she was able to share her life with other people and was where I became friends with Tamara. One day, Tamara and I were talking and I said, “Do you have anything special I can pray for you?” She just looked at me in unbelief that I asked her that. I didn’t understand. Then, she proceeded to tell me that I asked her those exact same words after a Sunday School class one day, and those words were the catalyst that started our friendship. Tamara became an active participant in our Saturday mornings fellowship luncheon which we had once a month too.
One day, I saw Tamara the happiest I had ever seen her. You see, in May, 2013, we threw her a surprise 39th birthday party. And believe me SHE WAS TOTALLY SURPRISED. We had balloons, cards, presents, and birthday cake. We sang happy birthday to her. She was so overwhelmed with love that her joy went from laughter to tears. It was at this party that Tamara shared the story of her life with us. The Holy Spirit filled the home and filled all of our hearts. While she was blessed, I think everyone who attended her birthday party left more filled and inspired than even she was.
She shared about how her mom sold tomatoes to help her attend a school where she could learn English. She shared about the beautiful furniture her dad made as a carpenter. In Tamara’s own words, she said the following about her parents.
“My parents raised all of their children to believe in God. My mum taught us that God is the only one you can depend on in life. My dad taught us how to pray for our food and for our sicknesses. My parents raised us well. In Zambia, where most of the people they knew died of AIDS, we had parents that took good care of us. We grew up in bad neighborhoods, but my parents were strict. They were always asking us if we prayed for this or prayed for that.”
Tamara loved Skyping with her family in Africa. She used to tell me about how her dad was quiet, but sometimes she would share something with them and they would get so excited praising God and dancing around. One time Tamara was at my house and I told her I prayed for her often. She said, “You do?” Then, I proceeded to show her in my prayer journal how she was on almost every day. In a sneaky Tamara kind of way, she tried to read the lines in my “personal journal.” She wanted to know EXACTLY what I was praying for her.
Before she was diagnosed with cancer, I prayed for her peace, for hope, for a place to live, for a job, for a car wreck she was in, for Sunday to get a job, for her children and more. Joe and I’s lives became totally intertwined with the family. One time our son Joseph took Sunday, her oldest son, with him to a park in Houston. They went walking on a path while Joseph taught an exercise class. When the class was over, Joseph couldn’t find Sunday anywhere. After waiting about 2 hours (and having many conversations with Tamara about Sunday’s whereabouts, Joseph called the police. Thursday night must be a low crime night because about 5 patrol cars were out searching for Sunday. Finally, one of the policemen found Sunday around 9 at night (in the dark) in the Bayou near the Beltway. The police picked up Sunday and drove him to Joseph's car quite a few miles away. Tamara and I laughed so hard many times about how Sunday was able to get such special treatment and how he got to ride in a police car and he didn’t even do anything wrong. That is just one example of the laughter we shared on many occasions.
Tamara’s love for her children was so strong. If I had to sum up what Tamara felt about each child, it would be this:
Victor [5th Grade]: Your mom fell in love with your tender and sweet spirit; keep smiling for her. You are any mom’s dream. Devon [7th Grade] : Your mom was so proud of your musical talent and fun loving spirit; When you play your music, play well for your mom! And remember Luka, your mom thinks you are the best cleaner in the family.
Faith [11th Grade]: Your mom was so happy to have a little girl; she was thrilled with your dancing ability and your strong desire to do well in school; keep it up for her, and keep dancing.
Sunday [2013 High School Graduate]: What you have done for your family this past year has been unbelievable. You were the man of the house for the three kids; you nurtured them; you made sure they were fed; you saw that all their school papers were signed; you got them to and from school; you took your mom to her doctor appointments; you cared for her. You gave up a year of working and going to school to help your family. You will be blessed. Tamara depended on you and God allowed you the privilege of caring for her through her diagnosis and treatment. You will be blessed. And, your mom DID notice your responsible behavior.
And myself, I have been blessed by knowing Tamara and her family. She taught me how to love unconditionally; she taught me to always be faithful; she taught me so much about the African culture so when I moved to Nigeria 1 ½ years ago, I felt ready to face the challenge. But, one thing she didn’t get around to teaching me (and she kept promising me she would teach me is to how to tie those African scarves around my head) – So, the first thing I will do when I see her in heaven with be to get her to show me that.
In conclusion, I would like to share some of Tamara’s words. In May, 2014, Tamara asked me to write this down for her and to keep it and today I would like to share them with you.
In August, 2013, I was diagnosed with cancer. God is my help through all this. He has helped me in this sickness. People I don’t even know are standing in prayer for me. The doctors are standing with me too. My parents always taught me that God is always able, and I believe that. My encouragement to you is this: Whatever is going on in your life, remember, as my mom has always told me, that “God will always have his angels around you, taking your hand, and Jesus will deliver you in due time.” Matthew 4:6.
Rest in Peace
[Tamara passed away in October, 2014.]