A lot of people turned up for Mr. Stewart’s funeral. I think most people came for Mrs. Stewart. I had heard a rumor that the pastor of the Stewarts’ church refused to speak at Mr. Stewart’s funeral and wouldn’t let them use the church. So Mr. Stewart’s funeral was being held at a funeral home, and some guy that nobody knew would speak about Mr. Stewart.
There wasn’t much good a person could say about Mr. Stewart. There wasn’t much good a person could say about any Stewart, but I was determined not to let Mr. Stewart be laid to rest in shame.
You see, I received a letter from Mr. Stewart two days after the officers came and told us that he was dead. I was going to put it in the shredder but something told me to open it. The letter made me cry and change my mind about Mr. Stewart. The letter stated that it should be read at Mr. Stewart’s funeral and that was what I was going to do.
Daddy refused to go to the funeral. Some people in Florida were holding a mini grudge against him since I guess it’s some unsaid rule that you go to everybody’s funeral even if they’re your mortal enemy. I understand why Daddy hated Mr. Stewart so much. It was all in the letter, but nobody else knew why so lots of rumors started to fly around North Adams and Florida. None of the rumors were true but some came very close.
I tried not to wince as people got up to the stand and started to bad mouth Mr. Stewart. I thought funerals were a time to honor and remember the good things people did not bring up all the hurt.
“Does anyone else wish to come up to the stand and speak?” The man who nobody knew asked.
I slowly rolled towards the stand. I couldn’t get to the actual stand because that meant climbing stairs. I asked the man to hand me the microphone and he obeyed. Momma stared at me like I was crazy. She must have thought I had gotten up there to bad mouth about Mr. Stewart for her.
“A couple days after Mr. Stewart died I received a letter from him,” I started. “I was going to destroy it…but I opened it instead. Mr. Stewart requested that I read this letter at his funeral and I will.”
Everyone gasped. Some people started to get up to leave, but soon they all sat right back down.
“To be read at my funeral. Dear Natalie, I have sent this letter to you because I have faith that you will not destroy it and use good judgment and read it first. I have pained many people in my lifetime, and some of those people I can never say sorry to, but I’d like to apologize to the people I have hurt the most. Also inclosed in this letter is my last will and testament. In it I hope to make small condolences to the people I have hurt.
“Before I make my apologize, I would like to thank someone, but before even that I must explain why this person has impacted my life and why I will be eternal grateful to them.
“I had this feeling. My father said that every Stewart and Chadwick gets this feeling. It’s the feeling of death. I just knew that I was going to die soon. I woke up one day and thought that I’d die very soon. The one thing that this feeling does not give is any time frame to how soon so for the past four months I have been agonizing and waiting for death to strike. But ever since I got to prison, I’ve felt the grip of death grow stronger. Death seemed to be all I could think about. I found myself constantly trying to remember what my will said and where I had been telling Lori for the past four months where I wanted to be buried. I had felt from a very young age that I was going to go to hell. Heaven always felt like a forbidden place. For years people have been telling me that I was going to hell. They never told me why though and I always assumed it was my family history that made me unfit to go to heaven. I knew that I’d never be able to do enough good things to get me into heaven. Surely all the mistakes I have made in this life would prevent me from going to heaven. I felt like death was the only option left and that life was never an option for me. But one day I received a letter from Jaci Matthews. She said that I probably felt like death and jail were my only options I felt like I had left. She told me that life was still an answer and she gave me an example. She told me a story that I had never heard before. It was about two criminals and Jesus. The two criminals were hanging on crosses next to Jesus. One of the criminals mocked Jesus and said that if He was the Christ to save Himself and the criminals too. But the other criminal spoke up saying that Jesus had done nothing wrong. The criminal that spoke up asked Jesus to remember him, and Jesus said that very day the criminal would be in Paradise with him. I thought to myself why couldn’t that be me? Why couldn’t I be the criminal on the cross? That man had done so many things wrong he was being killed for it, but Jesus still forgave him in the mist of his struggling. Jaci’s letter then went on to tell me how I could ask for forgiveness. She begged me to accept Christ. And in that very moment I did. I felt this peace overcome me. I didn’t feel quite like myself. I soon realized that I needed to ask for forgiveness from so many people. I felt even more like I was about to pass from this life, but this time I didn’t feel like I was going to die. This time the feeling told me that I was going to see Jesus very soon. I got a pen and paper as fast as I could. I remembered all the moments I let slip on by. I remembered all the time I wasted. Natalie, time is a precious thing. We’re only here on this Earth for so long. There are some many things I wished I would have said. So many things I wish I would have done. So many things I wish I never did. So much emotion has overwhelmed me that I can barely hold the pen. Looking back is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I always went through life trying to forget, but my brain would never let me forget. At the strangest times I would remember something Lori said to me when we were teenagers or something Gavin had said to me before he ran off to Nevada. Sometimes I could hear your mother’s cries. As I look back I can remember so many things vividly. I can even remember what they wearing and what time it was. My heart has always been heavy and I always wondered why. But now I know that my heart was heavy because of the things I was trying so hard to forget.
“Now to the apologizes. First I’d like to apologize to my wife, Lori Mary. I remember clearly that June day when I carried you over the threshold. I was so sure that all the love I’d ever need was in your eyes. When I met you I felt as if I’d never love anybody else. Lori, when we first got married, I was madly in love with you. But in the next decade I noticed that you started to change. You changed from my sweet Lori to a coldhearted woman begging for respect. I didn’t realize until now that I was the one changing you. I didn’t care about your feelings. I didn’t respect your wants and your wishes. I felt that since I was man of the house what I said went and that you didn’t deserve to have any say in it. I treated you as if you were a piece of coal, as if you were a person without feelings or a soul. I found myself in a marriage with a woman who was totally different ten years earlier. I did not love this new Lori and grew to hate the woman that had replaced my sweetheart. I soon started to lust and my heart slowly drifted away from you. But you have stayed with me through my infidelity. Not once did you pack your bags and leave me. You did shove the divorce papers that I so wholeheartedly deserved into my hands. I don’t even remember you threatening to leave. I tried to burn you and your grandson in my crazy desperate state when you never did a thing to me except be there. You never liked fighting with me and I was always the one that started to fights. Looking back I realize that you still loved me even though I no longer loved you. I can’t even begin to imagine how much pain that must have brought you. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I can never take away those lonely and sleepless nights. I can never go back in time and never change you. But I can tell you that I am sorry with my whole heart. I hurt you in one of the worst possible ways and I felt no shame in doing so. Words cannot express how sorry I am.
“Riley Walters. You were the only thing that I couldn’t have. I can remember vividly the moment you stepped into my office for an interview. I didn’t listen to a word you said. All I could think about were you’re weak amber eyes. You resisted me with everything in you. Not even money could lure you. When I threatened you and your family, you left Pittsfield rather than submit. I remember the day one of my employees called and told me that they had found you in Boston. I drove to Boston and found you walking the streets. You looked cold and tired. Back then I thought the way you looked was funny. Today as I look back I realize how sick I was. You looked more pitiful than funny, and I’m the one that drove you to living in the streets. I lied to you. I told you that I would take you home and never bother you again. Your innocent eyes believed me. You wanted to be back with your family, and I filled you with false hope and promises. I kidnapped you. I tortured you. I hurt you in one of the worst possible ways. I stole Yule from your arms and put you on a bus to Florida. I thought I’d gotten over you, but when I heard that you had gotten married…I lost it. I thought that if I couldn’t have you, no man should. I drove down to Miami and kidnapped you again. You had Noel on Christmas day and I took your gift away. To tell you the truth I thought I was doing what was best for them and you. I thought that if you couldn’t love me, there was no way you could love them. But my thoughts were changed when I learned that your first husband, Alexander Baldwin, was trying to find Yule and Noel. Something told me to just let you find them and move on, but then I started to think. I told myself that if I couldn’t be happy with you and them, that your husband did not deserve to either. I recently discovered that car crashes were an innocent looking way to kill people. I tried my new car crash method, and as we all now it worked. What I did not know was that you two had a child together. Natalie. I have no clue how that slipped past my spies eyes, but thankfully it did. I would have probably tried to kill her too just to hurt you. It wasn’t until Abby’s wedding day that I finally deiced to surrender Yule and Noel’s ware bouts to you. When I walked into the kitchen to get a fork, you confronted me instead of fleeing. I thought I’d give you a chance and got your husband a job in New York City. I thought what were the chances of you finding them out of over eight million people and that you would probably never think to start searching for them. But you found them nonetheless. You found them within the first week there, and that is truly nothing but God. I’ve caused you so much hurt and pain. I ruined your life. I was the reason you lost precious years with your parents. I was the reason you left. I’m the reason you caused them pain. Two words can never take away all those years of pain and hurt. And I understand if you can’t forgive me. But I am sorry, and I hope that you do believe that. Cause I am. In a single moment I felt the most regret I’ve ever felt in my life. I realized all the things I’ve done wrong and instantly felt sorry for them, and you are no exception.
“Now I’d like to say something to the younger crowd. Timmy and Emily, I let you run wild. I let you do whatever you wanted believing that there was no hope for you. I noticed a change in you the very day you two accepted Christ. You tried to tell me about Jesus, but I brushed you off. I thought that since you were young and hadn’t done a whole lot of terrible things that you could still receive grace. I now know that’s not true. Anyone, even a person who’s done just about everything wrong in life, can feel the power of Jesus Christ. I’d also like to apologize to Yule and Noel. To you I was the cool uncle. The one that showered you with gifts and sent lots of money. I hardly ever visit you or let you visit me because I saw so much of Riley in you and none of me. I’m sorry for not being there for you. I’m sorry for sending you through the mail. I’m sorry about everything. Zach Davis. I’ve always known that you were trying to do the right thing. I blamed my son’s arrest on you. I tried to make you something you were not. I tried to make a Stewart out of you when you were born a Davis. I forced you to see the horrors of our ‘adoption’ agency. I forced you to make hattan just because I was angry at you. I’m sorry for being so insensitive. I’m sorry. And Natalie. I have a confession to make. Lester Chadwick had informed me of my sister’s will and I drove down to New York City to wreak havoc on your family, but when I saw you standing out in the middle of the street, one of the worst ideas I’ve ever had came into my mind. I coldheartedly used my pedestrian hit on you, and I sped off believing you were dead. It wasn’t until I got home later that night that I heard that you had been paralyzed from that accident and had not had an instant death. I’m sorry for hitting you with that stupid truck. I’m sorry for ruining your life just like I ruined your Momma’s. No amount of money in the world can ever give you back what I took, and I am deeply sorry for everything. For trying to hit you with cars. For killing your father. For causing you so much pain when I hit. I’m sorry. So sorry.
“And finally Steve Matthews”- I hesitated. Daddy wasn’t here. Maybe I shouldn’t read that part. I mean he wasn’t here to hear it so what good would that do? Just as I was about to apologize and start reading Mr. Stewart’s will, Daddy burst through the funeral home doors. He stared at me probably wondering what in the world I was doing up there. I continued- “And finally Steve Matthews. I remember clearly that cold January day seventeen years ago. It was a quarter after two, and it was snowing real hard. You were wearing a heavy winter coat. Underneath the coat you wore a suit to look professional. You came to me asking about Riley’s disappearing and asking if I might help you find her. You started to blubber things you wished you had said to Riley. You told me that you thought she had been hurt and was possibly with child. You said that you didn’t care, and that you loved Riley no matter what. I told you that I would help you find her, but as we all know by now that was a big lie. I knew exactly where she was. I even went to visit her that day. I thought about killing you and bringing your cold dead body to Riley. I’ve secretly hated you all these years and have made several vain attempts to take your life. Riley loved you not me, and I never seemed to accept that. I’m sorry for lying to you. I’m sorry for costing you precious years with Riley. I’m so sorry for trying to hurt you.”
I looked up again and saw tears in everybody’s eyes. Mrs. Stewart was sweeping. Momma was letting tears run down her eyes. Forgiveness screamed from her face. Daddy sat next to Momma contemplated what I had just read. Timmy held Jaci close as if he was thanking her for sending that life changing letter. Noel looked at me as if to confirm that she understand everything I had just said. Yule looked as if he couldn’t breathe. It was clearly to see that he was mad about Mr. Stewart hitting me, but at the same time he looked as if he could never be mad at Mr. Stewart for anything anymore.
“Now to the will. Date January 24. I have had my men set up an account for my wife Lori. The Pitts Estate outside of Pittsfield is in her hands now. I remembered that she always admired that house, and I always planned for it to be hers when I died. I leave the Honeymoon House to my grandson Timothy-Caleb Stewart. I hope he and his soon-to-be-wife will live happily ever after in that house. To my granddaughter Emily Elizabeth Stewart, I leave her my watch. As a young child, she used to always take that watch out of my coat pocket and one day she asked for it when I died. A true Stewart at heart aren’t you Emmy? I agreed and never forgot that moment. There of course is her college fund. I had my men set up a living fund. I’ve had them put a nice little sum in there. It is to be reserved for when she is married and I would not be surprised if she marries Nelson Drew. They remind me so much of Lori and I when we were young. My ‘Adoption’ fund has now been turned into a grand/great-grand-children fund. Now my great-grandchildren include Yule and Noel’s children. Just wanna get that straight. I leave Drury Hall to Steve and Riley Matthews. I know a house can never take away the pain I’ve caused you, but I can’t think of anything else to give you. Oh, and congratulations on your triplets. I’d also like to pay for Natalie’s medical bills, current and future. I’ve already setup a fund for it. Contrary to popular belief the Stewart’s keep their money in separate bank accounts. I have given out several pieces of paper that give my sentimental things to certain people. Those pieces of paper still remain valid. The law firm Stewart & Stewart will be broken up into two law firms Stewart & Stewart Adoption where we will do legal and real adoption. And the regular Stewart & Stewart. I handled all the money matters so I give that job to Steve Matthews. I know its a big thing to handle, but I believe you can do it. Stewarts and Chadwicks’ we’ve got bad names in Berkshire County, but I would like for that to change. Please pick up a Bible. Please give a church a chance. Please really listen in church. Christ has changed the final hours of my life, and if He can change me the worst of them all, he can change you.”
Mr. Stewart’s signature was at the bottom. It followed a couple of other people’s signatures.
Mr. Stewart’s death changed every Stewart. From that day forward the entire Stewart/Chadwick family was changed for the better.