This is the first post I am doing that is non sport related and so if you are hoping to read about some trail running, triathlon or surfing exploits then sadly this post will not be for you. This post is for my friend Gary Stewart who was tragically taken from us in a mindless act of violence just two weeks ago. I have deliberated long and hard about this post and I decided that it’s far better to just get my feelings out in writing and express myself rather than bottle it up inside. I am hoping that this will also go some way in terms of the healing process and to try and draw a line under a senseless act of violence that took the life of my friend. Here is a link to the story that featured in the Cape Times, if you want the specifics. I don’t have the heart to go into detail here about what happened as it is still shocking to me.
Yes the title of this post is also the name of a pretty catchy 80’s song and if Gazza was reading this he would probably say “Puddles what kak are you talking about now?” I can still hear his voice so clearly as I type this post and it is like a knife through my heart.
You see the thing is I have been so conflicted since the attack on Gary’s vehicle happened. My emotions have gone from one extreme to the other and everything in between. I have had the moments of intense anger, sadness, depression and confusion. However I have also experienced moments of happiness and uncontrollable laughter when I have remembered one of those priceless ‘Gary memories’ that I have (lots to choose from). There were the many great times we shared together as twenty something Greenman barman in the 90’s and the sporting moments we enjoyed together from watching cricket at Newlands to the football matches on tv between my team Manchester United and Gary’s Liverpool.
During those years and the ones that followed I always enjoyed catching up with Gary and chatting about anything from sport to current affairs to music also. Here’s a tune that Gazza and I had a lot of laughs to back in the nineties. Gary was a great friend and listener he would never turn anyone away that wanted to chat and always kept matters light hearted with his easy going manner and good humoured nature. He was the type of friend that even when we were away working in the UK for so long we would come back on holiday and pick up from where we last we left off.
In all the years that I knew Gary he never had a bad word to say about anyone and was ever the peacemaker. He showed genuine concern for others and it was important to him how people were feeling. No matter how down you were a couple of choice words from Gazza would put things into perspective and would make you feel better instantly.
When tragedy struck and Gary was admitted to hospital news travelled fast, far and wide. Messages of support and sorrow came in from all corners of the world for Gary and his family. It brought together so many people in such a short time. It was a very moving tribute to a humble man that perhaps never realised how many people’s lives he had touched and genuinely cared about him.
It was with a very heavy heart when I received the news that friends and family should go to the hospital as it was now only a question of time. I was still in a state of disbelief as I had only heard the previous day of the incident and hoped that he would pull through against all odds. I arrived at Vincent Pollotti hospital to join his family and other close friends and sadly reality started to set in. We hovered outside the ICU ward steeling ourselves to go in but none of us making a move. I eventually pushed myself off the wall I was leaning against and headed inside.
I greeted his sister Michelle and her husband at his bedside and then looked down at Gary. I can only hope that I never again have to experience that feeling of utter shock and disbelief as I looked down at him lying motionless and almost unrecognisable due to the extent of his head injuries. I was absolutely crushed and I felt light headed I apologised to Michelle as I turned and headed back out the door. Trying to avoid the looks of friends outside as I struggled to fight back the tears I headed for a secluded corner to sit down and try and get my breath back and get a grip on my emotions.
I took a little time and headed back around the corridor that was now empty. I peered back inside the ward and saw Michelle and her husband still at Gary’s bedside. I walked over and apologised to them both for my reaction but she dismissed it and then asked me to try talking to Gary to let him know I was there. She said that the doctors had told her that he would still be able to hear as hearing was the last sense to go. I sat at his bedside and put my hand over his and tried to get words out. His sister encouraged me to keep going and then she kindly said they would give me some time to spend with him. It was not the way that I had ever imagined saying goodbye to him but I am glad that I got to sit with him one last time and chat briefly. I won’t share what I said to him but what I will tell you is that I know that Gary was listening and that he heard me. Later while we were waiting for that final confirmation from the doctors we all sat chatting about better times. I mentioned that I asked one of the nurses if they could wipe his cheeks as they were wet but then a friend of ours said something that I will never forget. She said that a nurse had said to her while she was talking to him that 2your friend can hear you because that’s not sweat on his face it’s his tears”.
Gary’s funeral was held last weekend in Claremont and needless to say that the church didn’t have enough seating for the many people that arrived to pay their respects to Gary. The service and words spoken were truly moving and there was not a dry eye to be found in the church as they led away his coffin to the song and famous Liverpool anthem. You’ll never walk alone (click here for song).
True to Gary’s character and a fitting tribute to him was that his last act was to donate his organs and potentially save and better the lives of other people. We heard a few days later that seven people were among those that received Gary’s organs. There really can be no greater gift than to save the life of another person. Gary’s last act of kindness has made me decide to become an organ donor also and I urge others to consider doing the same. http://www.odf.org.za/
There is a Facebook Group for Gary (over 700 members already). If you knew him feel free to post your memories of Gazza. There are plenty.
Rest in peace Gazza