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Not Again...My Tribute to Toni

On Thursday, June 23rd, Toni Michelle Henderson, lost her battle with diabetes. She was 40 years old.

I met Toni in 1990. We were both transfer students. She was from San Antonio and had a wicked wit. She and the other big city girls made fun of my tiny hometown in the outback of Texas. They got a kick out of making me the butt of their country jokes. I hated it, and I hated them for it. But eventually, I learned to look past all that. She was the one who taught me how to play spades because I wanted to meet guys...and the only way to do it was to be able to play cards and talk trash in the lobby. I hadn't learned at home because my grandmother thought cards were of the devil. We also sang in the gospel choir together. She wasn't great at it, but what she lacked in skill she made up for in enthusiasm.

A lack of financial aid forced Toni to leave school after a year, but our bond was already forged. Over the years, we hung out all over the country -- in Dallas, New York, and Las Vegas. I sang in her wedding, and she was there for me at Granny's funeral. Oh, and the conversations! I have to be thankful that we live in the nationwide calling plan age. If not, we'd both be broke.

Toni had diabetes when I met her. And even though she'd started to go down these past few years...losing her sight and enduring dialysis three times a week...I never knew just how much she suffered. That's because she kept that from me. She didn't want anyone to know what kind of pain she was going through. Instead, she always looked good when I saw her. We'd laugh and talk like the old friends we were. She never spoke of her troubles, and if I asked, she'd skillfully divert the conversation.

I have to say that my friend was a master of keeping up appearances. In fact, I thought she looked great when I saw her last month. I met her and our other friend at a midnight screening of Jumping the Broom. We laughed so hard...at the movie and at each other. When we parted, I thought I'd get to have lunch with her later on that weekend. But that didn't happen, and I said to myself, "I'll just catch her next time."

But God had another plan. In the end, Toni suffered two strokes that rendered my brilliant, feisty, and funny friend a vegetable. The doctors said that if she'd lived, she would've been relegated to the nursing home for the rest of her life. I know she didn't want to live like that -- we'd discussed it on several occasions. So in the end, she slipped quickly to the other side. I was glad because I couldn't bear the thought of her suffering anymore than she already had.

And so I pay tribute to Toni Michelle Henderson, whose presence and personality was larger than life. Her song was stilled way too soon, but I'll continue to sing in her place. Rest well, my sister, and I'll see you on the other side.

Toni Michelle Henderson
October 20, 1970-June 23, 2011

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