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It was a very sad week for Shortarmguy. My dad, Robert Swank, lost his two and a half year battle with Leukemia. He died on Tuesday while surrounded by his beloved wife of 26 years, Joyce, my sister, Tracy, and her husband, Dave, their daughter, Lauren, my wife, Sheri, and myself. My sister, Tammy, also showed up right at the moment when he took his last breath. Seconds before he passed to the other side, a lone tear welled up in his left eye. Joyce told me that my father always cried at movies when there was a happy ending. She believes the tear appeared because he saw his own happy ending.
We knew it was going to be tough to lose him, but were somewhat prepared for it since we watched him battle this nasty disease for such a long time. We hated seeing him suffering from a seemingly never ending stream of complications. I think if he could have scripted the way he died, it would have went exactly the way it did. He was at home in his beautiful bedroom rather than in the hospital that he hated. He was also surrounded by his family members and we were constantly telling him how much we loved him and that things were going to be OK. Some day when it’s my time to go, I could only pray for similar circumstances.
His funeral was on Saturday and I gave the following eulogy during the service:
We are here today to celebrate the life of Robert Swank.
A little more than two years ago, my father and Joyce lived in Pass Christian, Mississippi. They'd spent the previous eight months enduring the ravaging effects of Hurricane Katrina which basically destroyed their home and most of their possessions. They had been working together extremely hard to be one of the first in the city to have their home completely re-built and re-modeled. All right, it was mostly Joyce that worked hard to get the home re-built, but I know my father was there every step of the way giving her excellent guidance.
The reason they worked so hard to rebuild so quickly was because they wanted to sell their house and be able to leave the destruction behind so they could finally really retire from working and enjoy the rest of their lives together.
That was when fate delivered them another nasty blow.
They learned that dad had Leukemia. And although he didn't feel sick at all, he knew it was something he needed to begin fighting immediately. And fight he did. He underwent two rounds of chemotherapy. The treatments weren't working, so he instructed the doctors to get more aggressive. I remember asking him if he needed me to come down to see him and he'd say "No. I'm coming up to see you as soon as I beat this." But it was hard. It didn't seem like any of treatments were working. Then one day, I received a call from Joyce. She told me that dad was very sick and he wanted to see me. So I booked the first flight I could find and flew down to Mississippi. I was amazed at what I saw. I couldn't believe the devastation that was still everywhere even 8 months after the hurricane had hit. But seeing the broken streets and houses was nothing compared with my shock of the first time I saw my father lying in that hospital bed. The big, strong man I'd known all my life had been reduced to a helpless creature I didn't recognize. His doctor told me that he didn't think he was going to make it. He'd already been through two rounds of chemo which didn't work and the chances of the third round being effective were very slim.
I tried to be positive with my dad, but it was quite difficult. The prognosis seemed so grim. Dad just kept telling me over and over again that he just wished God would give him two more years. He kept saying two more years. He said he wanted to be able to move Joycey to Missouri so she could be closer to her family. He also wanted to be able to spend more time with his kids and grandkids. I spent the next couple of days with him watching him be sick and completely dependent on Joyce and his nurses. Before I returned home to Minnesota, I stood over him and silently said a prayer. In my head, I told him Good Bye. I thought it was the last time I'd ever see him alive.
Well, the rest as they say is history.
God did grant my father's wish of two more years of living. He was able to move Joyce to Missouri where they were lucky to have the opportunity to meet the many wonderful people in this room today. And dad was able to spend many weekends with his children and grandchildren.
I spent more time with dad in the past two years than I had in the previous 10. And we all had the opportunity a year ago to celebrate the 25th wedding anniversary of dad and Joyce which was full of life lasting memories.
I thank God for granting my dad's wish of two more years of life. It was one of the greatest gifts I could ever receive and I'm sure many of you feel the same.
After the eulogy, I read favorite memories of dad from members of my family. This was mine:
My favorite memory of dad is when he gave me my self confidence.
I remember when I was very little, dad used to call me Four Fingers. Now many people might think that sounds cruel, but I think he did it to prepare me for a cruel world. He also used to make me tell people stories about why my arms were different and also to make jokes about them. I think he knew it was an issue I'd always have to address with people and he didn't want me to be ashamed of that which made me unique. As I grew older, he told me I could be anything I wanted to be as long as I worked hard at it. He helped me learn how to build my self confidence which has helped me create a life I am quite proud of today.
Thank you dad for everything you did for me.
I Love You!
The reason we were with my dad when he passed away was because we traveled down to Branson for a family vacation last Sunday. We'd planned the trip for months and were really looking forward to spending the 4th of July holiday with my dad and Joyce. One of the last things he told me was to still take my family to Silver Dollar City because we had spent all that money. Even to the very end, he was giving me financial advice!!
We were bummed out that Marvel Cave was flooded due to all the recent rain in Missouri. We were able to do a half tour, but this meant we had to climb the 300+ stairs down to the bottom and then turn around and climb back up them out of the cave. That was quite the workout!
While at the theme park, I was actually recognized by several people who had seen my recent appearance on Miami Ink! This is Cindy and she ran over to see me before the Circus on Ice show began. She told me that her husband would be excited to hear that she saw me! Of course, I thought that was very cool and asked her to take this photo with me for my site.
As always, the boys had an absolute blast with their cousins. The six older kids seemed glued at the hip the entire week we were in Branson.
It was neat to see my four sisters together for the first time in many years.
I enjoyed seeing my Uncle David, although it caught me a little off guard because I've always thought he and my dad looked a lot alike!
It's a pretty crappy reason to have a family reunion, but it was still nice to see everyone all the same.
On Thursday night, we went to the Branson Landing to see an awesome fireworks display. The skies were pretty scary and everyone endured a lot of rain while waiting. Everyone but me. I wasn't able to get a poncho, so I went back to the restaurant and had a beer while they held my spot. That worked out pretty good! I was dry, my thirst was quenched, and I still was able to see the cool fireworks and the incredible tribute to our armed services!
No matter how sad the times are, it's still a lot of fun to Photo Bomb Tammy's pictures.
Shortarmguy appeared on the TLC Reality Show Miami Ink!
Watch the episode here and read about my trip to Miami!
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Nice Emails of The Week
I saw your episode on Miami Ink the other night. I also love your tattoo. I have a daughter, Noelle, who will be 22 in December. Currently she is an Interior Design major at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, TX. She was injured at birth and her right arm is bent at 45 degrees and shorter than her left, with her palm turned up in a fixed position. However, she is a very bright, amazing young woman who can do anything she sets her mind to. We have always worked very hard for her to accept herself as she is and she does. We mainstreamed her and NEVER labeled her as handicapped, which she isn't. Those of us who know and love her really don't even notice her arm anymore.
I would like to commend your parents, who must be amazing. I love your attitude and I agree the statement "so I have to tie my shoes a different way". That also applies to us. We just found ways around what she needed to do. Shoes with Velcro, etc. When it came time to buy her a car, the shifter button had to be on top instead of on the side. No big deal. And....like you, she's been this way since birth and doesn't know any different.
Anyway, I love your tattoo. I offered to fly with my daughter to Miami on her 21st birthday to get her first tattoo and meet Ami, whom I LOVE!!!! But...she couldn't wait, and chose to get it while we were on vacation in Galveston, TX last summer. Now she wants me to take her to Miami Ink to get her second tat, but no dice. It was a one time offer, 21st birthday and all. However, I just may go to Miami Ink to get my first tat soon.
Thank you for sharing your story with all of us. It is very inspiring. Take care.
Hi, Just saw Miami Ink on Fox when you had ur Tattoo done, Excellent man, I think ur attitude on life is great and you have inspired me to do more, Love your website as well and will be checkin it out all the time, stay cool man and have a great life.
Pete, ----Adelaide, South Australia.
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July 6, 2008
The 26-stone black bear had bolted into the water in fright after being shot with a tranquillizer dart when it was found roaming a Florida beachfront neighborhood. However, as the paralyzing drug took effect, the panicked creature thrashed and flailed in the waves, struggling for survival. Wildlife officer Mr Warwick, 29, who works for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, wasted no time in stripping off to help.
'The clearly confused bear looked at me as if he was either going to go by, through or over me . . . and at times he even looked as if he was just going to climb on top of me to keep from drowning,' he said. As the animal struggled to keep its head above water, Mr Warwick slipped one arm under the bear to cradle its body and clamped the other on to the scruff of its neck, dragging it ashore. Incredibly all that the wildlife hero suffered was a few scratches from the bewildered bear. The animal later recovered and was released into a state national forest.
Back on dry land, local resident Thad Brett had watched the drama unfold and maneuvered his mechanical digger onto the beach ready to meet the pair. 'I knew how hard it would be to get that bear out,' said Mr Brett. 'I could see he was about waist-deep in the water.' The bear recovered and has been relocated to Florida's Osceola National Forest.' 'We're all pulling for the bear to get adjusted in his new home,' said Mr Warwick.
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