A year ago, on April 15, 2012, my dad died. The last lucid conversation I had with him was on Easter. We spoke, but he didn't sound right, so I had him put my aunt on the phone and she told me his chemo was changed the week before. It had to do with his blood and fluid levels. He was on the third type of chemotherapy for liver cancer. This last one didn't agree with him at all. We lost him so fast I wasn't prepared. Even though we all knew about the cancer, dad never said the words "stage four" to any of us. He just kept plugging along, making plans for when he would go back to work, never complaining. I couldn't figure out why he didn't tell us the end was close because he told me he would and I believed him. I asked dad for a two-minute warning and he said he'd give me five. But he didn't do it. My brother came to visit me recently and we talked about Dad. My brother told me dad never said it to anyone. He was in denial.
Two weeks before he died, he and my brother changed the oil in his van. He was active and laughing. Then he's in the hospital for a week, hospice for a few hours and he took his last breath while I was driving down to Bradenton to see him for the last time. I did see him for the last time that day, but he was dead - in his bed at hospice. My sisters and one brother and some friends were in the room when I went in to see him. One of my sisters was standing at the head of his bed, the other was holding his hand and crying with her head on his chest. I walked into the room and to his side. I took one look at his pale, shrunken body and I laughed. My sisters looked surprised and I told them "He's not here. This isn't Dad." And I laughed again. They looked puzzled, but inside my heart and in my soul there was a connection to my father that is never-ending. And that connection told me Dad was still around, but he was no longer trapped by his given body. I felt such a joy and relief. My dad had moved on.
The past year has been filled with ups and downs. I went to therapy here in Milton, at Hospice. They have counselor who is readily available, no wait, and who is trained in grief therapy. She helped me in two ways - by knowing what to say and knowing when to listen. She made a big difference in my daily life and in handling my grief.
I had a morning about a month after he died that changed my entire life and what I knew about those who pass on. I had been crying for a while, with sobbing, painful tears...and suddenly I had a message come over me and it was strong. It said my dad was waiting to share his joy with me if I would just stop crying and holding on to the negative. I felt my dad's presence as strongly as I did when he sat next to me those many times in my life.
That feeling never fades, though sometimes I get busy and don't pay as close attention to it at various moments. Truth is, my dad's love and influence remains over me every second of every day and night. My mother told me a few months ago I had my dad's stubbornness and I laughed and loved to hear those words. I have so much of my father in me...when I was home after he died and we had his service, I listened to everyone talk about him and how he influenced their lives. It was the most precious gift to hear how my dad was considered "dad" by so many of my cousins, and second cousins, and relatives I barely knew. My dad touched many lives and he continues to touch mine.
I thought I would cry when I sat down to write this, but I haven't. I am joyful.
My dad has five children: Lynne Stewart (Hough); Howard Stewart Jr. (Tami); Bryan Stewart Sr.; Cheryl Stewart (Dan); and April Stewart (Brian). He has 11 grandchildren: Richard Jr., Kevin, Charla, Michael and Rayna;
Angela; Bryan Jr., Sarah and Christie; Joey and Jamie; and 8 great-grandchildren: Wesley, Bradley, Macon, Haley and Brianna; Dessie; Krystalyn and Joel.
My dad is survived by numerous sisters and brothers as he was number seven of sixteen children. He joins his sweet mom in heaven, and many members of our family. He was born in Kokomo, Indiana. His name is Howard Lloyd Stewart, Sr.
He is my hero and I will love him always.