Joyce Tulua is a young unsung heroine from Samoa, whose husband died suddenly in the year 2008 from a brain aneurysm (a bulging, weak area in the wall of an artery that supplies blood to the brain. If it ruptures, it can cause death). Her story envelops a journey of healing, and to understand such a journey, she has allowed us to take a quick look back into the beginning stages of her relationship with her husband—Lefanoga Tulua. “We had known each other for so long, but just as friends. Being in the same stake, same church, you tend to bump into each other a lot. I loved basketball, and he loved basketball. We both loved sports and I guess that is how things went for us,” she said. After a time, Lefanoga began to pursue a relationship with Joyce. However, with fresh wounds from her previous relationship, she wasn’t ready to commit to anyone, just yet. “When Noga started asking me to go around with him, I shut him out. He had met me at my worst, but the thing is he just kept coming. He never gave up on me all that time. When I would say no to him when he asked me out on a date, he would still turn up at my door. He kept calling me and calling me, and I finally decided I would give him a chance,” she continued.
After several dates, he asked her to be his girlfriend. The moment of finally allowing him into her life is symbolized by the red hibiscus flower that she often wears in her left ear. Before she dated Lefanoga, she always wore a Pua (Frangipani) flower in her left ear. “I am a simple girl and Noga knew that I did not care for jewelries or any other accessories. He told me that he was very poor and that his family was poor, and that he had done many bad things in his life, but he wanted to date me,” she explained. When she accepted, he replaced the Pua with a red Hibiscus flower—a flower that she now continues to wear. When asked about her decision on marrying him, she said without hesitation, “Marrying him was the best decision I have ever made. I have made a lot of bad decisions in my life, a lot of wrong ones, but I am glad that this one was the best and the most correct decision that I have ever made in my life.”
When describing the events that gradually led up to the passing of her beloved husband she explained, “Noga got sick in 2008 and he began to have migraines. He had had them since he was a young man. That year, the headaches came constantly. It was like one week in the hospital then one week home, then back in the hospital. The hospital became our second home. There was never a time in those six months that he said he wanted to give up. In July that same year, there was a basketball tournament and he was asked to be a referee for a championship game. Although he wasn’t feeling good, he still went. This was on the weekend morning of our last trip to the hospital and then me coming back home without him. At the basketball game he began to have a major headache. When we arrived home, he slept and we gave him the traditional Samoan fofo (massage). We took him to the hospital early Monday morning, when he finally agreed to once again go to the hospital.” Her last few hours with her husband was on a Monday evening. “He was sleeping and then he woke up and asked me if I was happy. I mean who does that? Here he is the one who is sick and yet he was worried about me. When I told him I was happy, he went back to sleep. After about ten minutes, he got up again and he asked me again if I was happy. I said, ‘Yes I’m happy.’” She spoke of how her husband must have known that it was time for him to go because he called her name while she was lying on the floor beside his hospital bed, and asked her to hold his hand and not to let it go. He also requested to call home and was able to speak with his mother for a while.
All the while Joyce felt the impression that “he was going to go soon,” but she was unable to cope with the idea of losing him. She brushed the thought aside and kept encouraging him to “be strong.” He slowly squeezed her hand and asked her if she was happy. Once again she reassured him that she was very happy, and he proceeded to extend his gratitude to her for looking after him and believing in him. After fighting to hold on to his life, her husband told her that he was tired of the pain, to which she responded, “I know, be strong and in the morning we will go home.” She then expressed, “I knew he was slipping away but I didn’t want to believe it. The fits then started kicking in. His grip on my hand was so strong and it gave me hope that he would fight to come back, so I whispered in his ear that I loved him very much and he kept squeezing my hand. That’s how I knew he could still hear me….then finally I said to him, well I don’t know if I was supposed to say it because maybe if I didn’t he would have come back, I said, ‘It is up to you. If you want to go, I will accept whatever you decide. I’ll be here.’ I told him one more time that I love him and thanked him for loving me the way no one else can. Noga took three quick breaths and then that’s when I could feel his grip on my hand loosening. Then all of a sudden it was like I was watching a movie. I screamed. I didn’t know what was happening at all. All I knew was, Noga was gone and in all honesty so was I.”
Her beloved husband passed away on the 8th of July, 2008. Coping with his loss has been difficult for her, especially because she had also lost her unborn child, only two weeks after her husband’s death. In order to deal with the loss of her husband, she strives to “take it one day at a time.” She also expressed her gratitude for her religion—the LDS Church—and the temple because through the temple sealing she will be able to see her husband again. To Joyce, the sun setting “is another day closer to Noga;” meaning she continues to trek her path with hope and conviction that someday she will reunite with her eternal companion in the next life. She also expressed how she uses her memories of him to give her strength to move forward. “I keep sailing on memories of Noga because if I don’t, I would be lost in this vast ocean of life”. She encourages women who are going through similar challenges—who are also mothers—to “be stronger than [her] because of the children. Make sure they are okay, and will be able to cope with their own lives when you are gone.” Joyce’s definition of “moving on” is heavily defined by her ability “to live each day at a time.”
Her challenges have allowed her to become a source of strength for the people that she continues to reach out to. Joyce is currently a Ward Young Women President, a Sunday School Teacher for Young Married Couples and Single Adults, a Ward Relief Society Visiting Teacher Supervisor, an aunt, a sister, a daughter and a friend. Her journey of healing is challenging, but she continues to face it a day at a time. Her story is a tender reminder that at times when we are given challenges that we feel are heavier than we can bear; all we can do is take it one day at a time. We must trust that God will heal us, in a way that will allow us to continue to take each breath of life, with assurance that though the sun rises with its challenges, the sun will set with a peaceful reminder that our sorrows will mold us into strong individuals, if we are willing to put our lives in God’s hands. As we strive to move forward in whatever way we may so decide, we will discover a new sense of strength within ourselves, a strength that will enable us to reach out to others who need it.
*Temple sealing – Ordinance performed in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Temple, “in which husbands and wives are sealed to each other and children are sealed to their parents in eternal families. This means that if we are faithful to our covenants, our family relationships will continue for eternity.” (www.lds.org)
~ R.T.T. ~