Warren Montgomery spent his Saturday mornings pretending to be asleep while his two daughters jumped on the king-sized bed to "wake" him.
The two young girls would hug him or give him wet willies until he roused. It was a weekend tradition, his wife Roshelle Montgomery said.
This past weekend was very different. Roshelle was at home with their daughters as Warren was fighting for his life in a Regina ICU.
"I've heard about the ICU being max capacity, overcapacity, but I didn't understand until I saw it," Roshelle said. "It's literally like a nightmare in there."
After battling the coronavirus variant first identified in the U.K., the 42-year-old chef died peacefully Tuesday with Roshelle holding his hand.
WATCH | Roshelle Montgomery speaks about her husband's battle with COVID-19
Warren was a big personality with a big smile
Warren was working with Delta Airlines in Atlanta 10 years ago when he and Roshelle connected online. The two met for the first time that June, got married that October and settled in Regina.
"He was my soulmate. He was my everything," Roshelle said. "He was big in life, the big smile. He lived and breathed cooking."
They had two children together, now aged five and eight, and Warren had four children in Louisiana from previous relationships. Roshelle said her girls thought their father "walked on water."
"He was their superhero. They were daddy's girls," Roshelle said. "He's still with us. He's watching them."
After moving to Regina, Warren started The Big Easy Kitchen, cooking southern food with his own flair. It didn't always make a lot of money, but it was his passion.
Roshelle said Warren got his love of cooking from his mother.
"She cooked for him all the time," she said. "He cooks with love, just like his mom."
Roshelle suspects workplace exposure led to the family becoming ill
Roshelle said she can only speculate, but believes the exposure to the coronavirus variant started in her office. The company was following all the guidelines, but an outbreak happened, she said.
Roshelle tested positive on April 4. Warren and their oldest daughter tested positive on April 5.
"Warren and I really started to decline together. We were both struggling to breathe, coughing, aching, extreme fatigue. I could say I've never felt so sick in my entire life," Roshelle said.
Warren declined rapidly. Roshelle said he was coughing to the point where he was throwing up. She phoned 911 and Warren was taken to a local COVID-19 ward.
"He would call home or message me because he couldn't really talk," she said. "He was scared. He wanted to come home."
Warren declined further. The medical team decided to sedate and intubate him, and moved him to the ICU. Doctors were looking at options when Warren had a major stroke. Roshelle said the ICU doctor told her that a CT scan showed the left side of his brain was dead.
"There was really nothing else they could do," she said. "He was too weak and fragile. So then it was kind of a decision time."
The family decided together to remove the ventilator on the afternoon of April 20. Roshelle received a call that morning saying Warren wouldn't make it that long. She rushed to the hospital. Warren's family in the U.S. spoke to him, then Roshelle let her daughters talk to him over the phone before the doctors left.
"Everyone left me alone with him," she said.
Warren died peacefully about five or 10 minutes later.
"I stayed with him for probably about an hour by myself, just so he wasn't alone."
Outpouring of community support and fundraisers
Roshelle posted about Warren's death on social media a few hours later. Messages started pouring in from thousands of people.
"It's restored my faith in humanity," she said.
Warren used to joke that he was famous in Regina. Roshelle would keep him humble, joking that no one knew him. The deluge of messages showed her oldest daughter Eva that Warren was right.
"Everybody knows him. I'm floored." she said. "I truly cannot keep up and I'm scared I'm going to miss somebody. I want to thank everybody and I can't, it's overwhelming."
On top of those thousands, others messaged The Big Easy Kitchen on Facebook. The community has also launched multiple fundraisers:
A neighbour and friend set up a GoFundMe campaign.
Local and Fresh and Agave Authentic Mexican Grill held a taco platter fundraiser.
Agave is also holding a Wednesday Cajun fish feast.
El Tropezón is donating proceeds from all orders.
So far, more than $30,000 have been raised. Roshelle said the money will go a long way.
She said she hopes people remember Warren's passion for The Big Easy Kitchen and how he never gave up on his dream.
'It's not worth it' to gather
Roshelle said she had previously been vocal on social media about having COVID fatigue and wanting life back to normal. Now she knows she couldn't have been more wrong.
"It's got to be shut down," she said. "I was so ignorant to how things really are."
Roshelle said she had been given the option to work from home, but at the time didn't think about it. She said she's trying not to feel guilty.
She is thankful for the ICU staff's hard work through it all. She said they were always positive — telling Warren how much he was loved — and accepted every Facetime or phone request from her and his family.
"If I could hug every one of them, I would if I could," she said. "They don't get paid enough."