Joyner and her husband Ceasar Joyner, 56, shared that home with Fuller in Suitland. On April 8, they welcomed a new baby girl.
But before the generations could gather together, Fuller developed a fever and cough. She was hospitalized with covid-19.
The family’s concerns grew as Fuller’s daughter, Connie D. Madden, 64, a dialysis patient, also contracted the coronavirus. Mother and daughter died within days of each other in April.
Ceasar Joyner also grew ill with covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, and was hospitalized. For weeks he saw his wife and new daughter only through Zoom visits.
“I have had so many times to sit back and process what is taking place. God has a way of preparing you for things,” said Tonya Joyner, who is Madden’s niece. “I had to sit back and say to myself, ‘He was preparing me for this all along.’ I pray every morning and night. Sometimes I have to pray in the middle of the day. This made me realize that life is really short.”
Like so many people of color, Fuller’s parents migrated to the District from South Carolina in search of a better life. She was one of seven children born to Richard and Exie Gage. Her sister Ophelia Boyd said Fuller was the oldest sibling and took her role seriously.
“She looked over us,” Boyd said. “She felt that it was her duty.”
Fuller worked at St. Elizabeths, the District’s psychiatric hospital, where her family said she had cared for John W. Hinckley Jr., who was treated there after he shot President Ronald Reagan and three others outside a D.C. hotel.
Fuller was a member of Christian Fellowship Baptist Church in Capitol Heights, a member of the Fraternal Order of the Elks, the Order of the Eastern Star and she loved to cook soul food. While Joyner said her grandmother had a great recipe for sweet potato pie, Boyd said she most enjoyed her sister’s pinto beans.
“I miss my sister so much,” Boyd said. “I can’t question God. We did a lot together. We went to church. We went out. Our family was so close.”
Fuller had two sons, but Connie Madden was her only daughter.
Madden, who had a son and daughter of her own, worked as a teacher’s aide at St. Philip the Apostle Catholic Church in Camp Springs. She lived in Southeast Washington.
“She loved children,” Tonya Joyner said. “Aunt Connie loved all the kids at her school.”
Joyner said her grandmother developed a fever and cough in mid-April and at first thought it was a bout with allergies. After a call to 911, she went to Southern Maryland Hospital and, after treatment, appeared to be stabilizing.
“She was eating, talking and holding her own,” Joyner said. But Fuller took a turn for the worse. She was put on a ventilator and died April 24. Madden ended up at a hospital in Baltimore and died three days later.
By that time, Ceasar Joyner was hospitalized. Over 21 days, he and his wife shared life with their first child, Brielle, through Zoom, in the same way political officials, educational institutions and churches have continued to gather virtually. “I was really scared,” he said, “but God was in control.”
He was discharged May 15.
His wife is grateful, but their home has changed.
“It is bittersweet because I would have liked to have my grandmother and my aunt here to enjoy this moment with the baby,” Tonya Joyner said.