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A father-in-law's final days, told in tweets

DELTONA — Cindy Burk didn't think her father-in-law ever liked her. At Thanksgiving, she said so.

"When have you ever said anything personal to me to know me?" she asked him.

Still, when all the other relatives gushed about how good he still looked, Cindy saw the yellow tinge of jaundice under his tan. She noticed the 20 pounds that liver cancer had stripped from his 78-year-old body since September.

So in the same dinner conversation, Cindy invited Haverd Burk to live with her and her husband, Rodney.

Maybe she saw a little bit of her husband in him. Maybe Cindy, 50, a retired nurse with a bad back, missed taking care of patients.

Maybe she knew he didn't want his family to see him like this. He was too proud, too dignified, too private to ask his children to care for a weak old man.

The family hurried to move him the next weekend from his trailer in Tampa to her house in Deltona, north of Orlando.

"You know why there's a rush, don't you?" she said quietly to Haverd.

Haverd is getting weaker each day, Cindy posted on Twitter five days later. i think he knows his time is limited but he says nothing to me.

Cindy is not a computer person, but somebody had to tell Haverd's six kids, 19 grandchildren, seven step-grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren and four sisters how he was doing.

She shunned the conventional rules of Twitter, letting thoughts run on for four consecutive tweets. Hash tags? Mentions? Heck, punctuation? Forget it.

One day, her son called.

You haven't tweeted in hours, Mom, he said. Is everything okay? Don't you think you ought to post an update?

• • •

dad is not taking any meds for pain, only advil we think it is because everyone is coming.

Haverd's liver shut down. With toxins building up in his body, food didn't taste good. His heart was failing. His lungs too.

Tell me when you need to give up, Cindy said to him, and we'll let the butterflies free.

He wanted to be alert when the kids came by. No more than two at a time, Cindy said, and don't touch his vitamins.

Haverd talked privately with each of them, and when they left, they turned their backs to the door so he couldn't see the quiet tears on their cheeks.

• • •

haverd has less than 48 hours just gonna make him comfortable.

Nobody knew Lea Duval had been trying to call her step-grandfather for days.

"Come quick, kid," Cindy told her in a message.

Lea, his Leabug. She brought the spark back to Haverd's eyes. He stopped asking for pain meds and sipped a celebratory glass of red wine while he waited for her.

He had promised her, the little girl he had raised as his own, that he would survive. That he'd walk her down the aisle one day.

That night, 20-year-old Lea sang him to sleep, her voice so like her grandmother Onyx's.

The first time she ever sang on stage, 4 years old and terrified, he had stood and shouted, "That's my granddaughter! That's my baby!"

Everyone knew she was Haverd's favorite.

• • •

i asked him if he wanted to talk with lea or did he want pain meds. he looked me in the eye and said pain meds i hurt all over the butterflies need to fly i gave him a full does.

He had whispered it, their secret code, face buried in her neck and arms wrapped around her shoulders.

She didn't let him see her cry. But she had just started to call him Dad.

• • •

Haverd is resting comfortably, and said he is ready to meet Jesus.

• • •

at 645pm Haverd Burk has passed on to God. His family wishes to thank all those who have prayed for him.

• • •

Please let's stay as close as we have become . . . Remember we are only a phone call away.

Stephanie Wang can be reached at swang@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2443.

About Encounters

Encounters is dedicated to small but meaningful stories. To comment or suggest an idea for a story, contact editor Mike Wilson at mike@sptimes.com.

A father-in-law's final days, told in tweets 01/18/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 19, 2011 7:29am]
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