My wife Talia and I met while we were both working in Arizona. Talia was brilliant,
graduating Magna Cum Laude from Arizona State with a degree in French. Talia loved
science fiction, cross-stitch projects, and most of all books! Talia was perpetually curious and
would google everything. She loved to constantly learn.
In addition to Talia’s beauty and intelligence, I was most drawn to her sweet spirit. Our faith played a major part of our relationship and on July 1, 2017, we married on a 112-degree day in Cave Creek, AZ.
Talia worked from home as a closed captioner, and I worked in the jazz department at Michigan State University. When COVID hit we were at home together 24/7 and we grew so close.
In January of 2021, Talia found a lump on her breast. The doctor confirmed it was cancer, and the tests showed it had spread to her liver which made it stage 4. Talia had not felt good for a year leading up to her diagnosis, but on chemotherapy, she started to get some energy back. At one point the tumors had drastically shrunk and we thought our miracle was
At an appointment in November of 2021, we did follow up testing on a spot the doctor had noticed the base of her brain in an earlier scan. He confirmed that her cancer had spread to her brain.
We decided to go ahead with radiation treatments. Our first appointment lasted literally 5 minutes. However, an hour later Talia was lying on our bed in the fetal position screaming in pain. Her head was throbbing, and she was sick to her stomach. We tried one more treatment, but the side effects were the same. There was no way Talia could finish the radiation treatments. They were not going to cure her cancer anyways so why continue?
This left us in a difficult situation. Talia needed medication to help with the pain, but we no longer had a doctor. Both Talia and I have a sister who is a nurse. They suggested hospice. Talia was not dying yet, so we didn’t think it was time to start hospice care. They explained to us that it is for times just like this.
So, I called Hospice of Lansing. They sent an intake nurse for her assessment that day. The nurse saw that Talia was in horrible pain, so she contacted the hospice doctor and medication was ordered immediately. It was quickly delivered and a few hours later Talia was pain free. A big component of hospice is comfort and that is what they immediately provided, was comfort care!
We met our regular nurse the next day. She was aware of what happened yesterday and was astonished to see Talia sitting on the couch after doing the dishes. Talia felt very comfortable with our nurse and Mia, our cat, instantly bonded with her too!
When we started radiation, we canceled a planned trip to Arizona to see Talia’s family for Christmas. But now with hospice care, Talia felt she had enough strength to drive to Arizona. She did not want to fly. It was a very special time with her family and would be the last time she would see some of the members of her family. Talia’s biggest fear was that she would lose her hair and she did. While we were in Arizona, she went shopping with her mom and sisters for some wigs.
Upon our return home, Talia’s motor skills began to weaken. She could no longer walk on her own, so our nurse instantly had a walker for us and then a wheelchair. This was our life for the next few months. One of the medications Talia was taking made her eat much more than normal. So, I would prepare lots of food for her. I was still working and only getting a few hours of sleep each night.
The Bryon Center Jazz Orchestra, that I work with, was invited to perform at the prestigious Essentially Ellington Festival in New York City, at Jazz at Lincoln Center led
by Wynton Marsalis. This festival is one of my favorites and I look forward to it each year.
I planned to skip it, but Talia said I should go. Our hospice nurse told us Talia could go to Stoneleigh Residence for a respite stay. This was a very hard decision for me. I was not sure about giving over Talia’s care to strangers who would not know the details of our routine. I took a leap of faith and Talia went to Stoneleigh and I went to New York City.
During the trip, I could not stop worrying about Talia. I called her so many times. However, Talia was genuinely having a lot of fun. At one point likening it to a cruise ship. She said,
“I have a personal chef, who asked me what all my favorite foods were and just made me a vanilla shake.” She said the music therapist was going to play piano with her and liked sci-fi and knew about her favorite show Stargate. She had a massage and one of the nurse aides was from Arizona. Talia was doing great, and I tried to relax a little.
When I returned to Stoneleigh to pick Talia up, she was angry at me. Yesterday things were amazing, so I was very confused. We went home and she was like a different person. I wished I had not taken the trip. The next 24 hours were horrible, and I was beside myself, so I called our nurse.
Again, one of the core values of hospice is comfort and compassion. This just doesn’t apply to the patient, but I found it extends to the family and caretaker too. Our nurse told me in the most compassionate way, that I was literally doing the work of 3 people and the time had come for Talia to move to Stoneleigh. So, the next day we were back at Stoneleigh.
While Talia was getting checked back in, I met with an angel named Dr. Morrison. He said that our nurse had filled him in on the situation and the first thing he wanted me to know was, that it was not my wife talking to me like that, but the tumor in her brain was causing the personality changes. It made so much more sense to me now. We had a hard but compassionate conversation about how I would like our time at Stoneleigh to go and he suggested I should contact the funeral home to be ready.
When Dr. Morrison introduced himself to Talia, he said “Hi Talia, I’m Dr. Morrison and my first question for you is, should we fire Dr. Max?” She laughed and said, “I already did.” Dr. Morrison winked at me and just like that I had complete trust!
For the next month I spent 23 hours a day at Stoneleigh Residence with Talia. I would go home for an hour, get cleaned up, feed the cat, get the mail, and head right back. The setting at Stoneleigh is like
a transition to Heaven with all the deer and turkeys coming to the window each day, beautiful sunsets, peaceful pond, and fountain. The staff showed Talia and me such love and compassion that they became like our family for which I will be eternally grateful.
I only had two really bad hours, which were dealt with immediately with such kindness, swiftness and integrity. I would say, if that was all, I call that a miracle.
Talia passed peacefully on June 10, 2022, at the age of 43.
I met with the Hospice of Lansing representative to ask what I owed for Talia’s time at Stoneleigh. She said, “You don’t owe anything. Her costs were covered by donations.” I was shocked, moved, and humbled by such generosity.
In the most trying and emotional time of my life, I was blessed to be surrounded with some of the most amazing, caring, compassionate, people I’ve ever met. I could not have handpicked them any better. In the short month that we spent at Stoneleigh, I now consider everyone family. I keep in touch with many and visit when I can.
Their care didn’t stop with Talia’s passing. I have received calls for the past year to make sure I am coping with the grief, and I receive a newsletter with insight and encouragement.
Hospice of Lansing & Stoneleigh Residence is a very important part of our community, and you can be rest assured your donation will be used in mighty ways to help aid those in need, during such crucial times in life.
I hope you will continue to help this amazing organization, especially during this season of giving. Please don’t forget to send your gift today!
Max Colley, III