(Shared at Stephen John Inthof's funeral May 18, 2019 at Callander Bay Church by Stephen's dad: John Inthof)
Thank you, as Rabbi Grollman stated, grief shared is a grief diminished, thank you for helping us carry this tremendous load of grief.
I speak for a living. It’s what I do. Whether it be sermons or radio – I talk. But I think this is the most difficult thing I have ever tried to express. So, there may be some long pauses as I try to compose myself.
Stephen came to us, our first chosen son in January of 1997. We first met him at his foster parents (Marg and Harry) in Willowdale over Christmas 1996. My first memory of Stephen was as we entered in their house and Stephen was walking with an empty Honey Nut Cheerio Box. It was one of two foods that he ate. The other being Vanilla Pudding. His favourite word was Harry – his foster dad’s name. What else struck me was his beautiful, contagious smile. He could light up a room.
Harry and Marg had brought Stephen to one of his early doctor appointments and on his paper work it said that Stephen’s father was Greek. The Doctor looked at Harry and said, “He ain’t no more Greek than you and I, Harry.”
We began the process of spending time with Stephen and making him feel comfortable with us. One of the first things we did was took him on a road trip to the mall. Marg, His foster mom, gave us a piece of advice as we went out the door. She said, “I don’t usually let Stephen out of the stroller.” We thought that strange we never had any problems with Brittany, she was very compliant. We thought it must because they were older, and we were young. So, when we got to the mall after walking around for a while, we decided to let him out of the stroller. Or maybe put another way, “We decided to release the Cracken”. He was gone like he was shot out of gun. The rest of our time was spent getting him back in the stroller and after having a taste of freedom, he would have nothing to do with that stroller.
I still remember the journey home. His first trip to McDonalds. Brittany and Stephen falling asleep in their car seats holding hands. I remember the horrific first nights as he adjusted to his new home. But I didn’t let Jenn wreck his good sleeping habits. Sleeping Habits which he kept. Stephen could sleep a lot.
Even at a young age, one of the things Stephen could do well was talk. He could talk a lot. Barb Epp would often bring Stephen to the farm for a visit. He would sit in the back seat and ask a million questions, Barb finally told Stephen, “this is the part of the trip where we just look out the windows and we stop talking.” And he did.
Stephen would also talk to anybody willing to listen. He thought that everyone was a friend to be discovered. When he was younger, we were concerned that any friendly person in a truck could have taken Stephen. He was so trusting. Just recently Stephen had said to us, “I have some new friends, there were people moving in and I went over to welcome them to the neighbourhood.”
You often didn’t have to worry about what Stephen was thinking because he already had said it. One time we were at Walmart and the lady who was working at the cash was black. Stephen looked at her and said, “Why is she covered in chocolate pudding?” We tried to ignore it and keep him quiet. But Stephen would have none of it and said even louder, “Why is she covered in chocolate pudding?” We had to explain to her that he was adopted and probably he didn’t know he was black too. I have often joked it was one of those times when, “the pot called the kettle black.” Rachel when she attended her first day of school came home and stated emphatically. “Stephen’s a different colour” – It was her first realization that our family was a little different.
We didn’t know that Adopting Stephen was going to be the key to growing our family and soon his brothers Dylan and Jordan were part of our family as well. He was the blessing that opened the door to more. He loved being a big brother. It was a title he wore like a badge.
Stephen was naturally athletic. He could swing from monkey bars like it was nothing. When he was in public school, he won the Standing long jump for all North Bay. He came within 2 cm of setting a new citywide record. He also won running long jump, but his methodology was a little wonky as he would run, stop to make sure he didn’t go over the line and then throw himself with reckless abandonment. He could run fast, but he never really liked the competition and would just run to keep up with everyone. He always reminded me of Dash in the movie “The Incredible’s, “Close Second”
Stephen’s struggles with epilepsy started at a young age. Small “Absence” seizures eventually turned to grand-mal seizures. The summer between kindergarten and grade one was particularly hard on Stephen. Early success managing his seizure disorder was lost as he entered into puberty. He was never able to get full control of his seizures. Stephen tried to not let his epilepsy interfere with his life. We often had the hard task of trying to curb his activities to keep him safe. I was reminded last night of a time at our Jr. Youth program, RIOT. When I yelled at him because he had climbed way up in the top of a pine tree. “Get out of the tree, you have a seizure disorder.” He just wanted to live. He always thought of it as bothersome and limiting. Never would we have thought it would have led us to this moment.
Stephen loved camp. Some of his greatest times were being at family camp at Camp Mishewah. Except when he jumped on top a wasp’s nest and got stung 8 times. One of the early years at family camp, we had just arrived and were setting up and the kids wanted to run around. We told Stephen. One rule, “Don’t go in the lake.” Half an hour later he came back with his clothes completed soaked.
Me: What did I tell you not to do?
Stephen: Go in the lake.
Me: What did you do?
Stephen: I went in the lake.
Me: Why did you go in the lake?
Stephen: I wanted to go in the lake.
Stephen found family camp to be the greatest place on earth. Fun things to do. People to talk too. New Friends to find. I’m pretty sure they are still finding Stephen’s clothing, shoes and beach towels around the camp.
He also helped at several camps through Georgian Native Ministry. This opportunity brought together three of his favourite things. He was at camp; he was with people and he got to help and serve others. He was planning to go and help again this summer.
He was so proud of learning to be independent. He always wanted to show off his apartment. He loved his job as the janitor of Callander Bay Church. Simple things like making sure the bills were paid, gave him a great sense of accomplishment. Stephen always wanted to do a good job he felt so validated when he did. He loved being given things that for him were rites of passage into adulthood. He loved his toolbox that Papa (Jenn’s Dad) gave him for Christmas two years ago. He loved his game box. I have a game box of small card games. When Brittany moved out, I put a game box together for her. Stephen thought this was a part of adulthood so when Stephen moved out, he started asking for his game box. So, this past Christmas I gave him one. He would proudly bring it with to community living game nights. It sat near the front door. Ready to go in a moments notice.
Stephen loved video games. He loved his PS4, which he would argue was better than an XboxOne. (He would also argue that Android was better than apple). At different points he had aspirations of getting a job as a video game tester.
Stephen loved all things Anime. On the table are just a few of his anime things. Every conversation was an opportunity to explain, in great detail, his latest viewing pleasure. He was convinced that if people just knew how good Anime was that they would learn to love it too. He would often tell me, his triumphs in getting Community Living workers to watch an episode with him, and of course they would love it. Stephen was the same with his faith in Jesus Christ. He was open and honest about it. He believed that if people knew Jesus, the way he knew Jesus. They would believe in him too.
Stephen was my sermon heckler and validator. He would often interject and give his two cents in the middle of my messages. He would correct details he thought were wrong. He would make sure if I had a story – He was in a good light. Many people will miss his interjections…me not sure, lol.
Stephen loved church and church events. Promise Keepers was one of his favourites. Thousands of men worshipping God together, for Stephen that was just like heaven. Stephen always loved sharing times at church. I don’t think Stephen would ever let a sharing time go by without sharing something. He always had something that he was thankful to God for. Particularly, Stephen was thankful for his family. He would often express his thanks to God for being adopted into our family and having the opportunity to find Jesus. He always made it seem like he was the fortunate one. But really, we, his family, you his extended family, were the fortunate ones. We had the privilege of having him be a part of our lives.
As we were getting a few things from Stephen’s apartment to bring for the table today. Stephen still had a balloon that we had given him for his birthday in March. It was a big foil balloon in the shape of a video game controller. It was still floating. The other rubbery balloons that we had bought with it wee no longer floating. So, I said to Jenn that I would throw out the old balloons and we could bring the big one home and I would take the helium later and we could keep it as a keepsake. So, I did that. Then I started loading some of the stuff in the van. I had left the door open and much too my surprise the balloon had floated out the door, over the porch, over the van and was now sailing away. My first thought was, “Jenn is going to kill me”. I told her and at first, she was sad, as we watched Stephen’s balloon fly away. Then an incredible peace came over us. It felt like a message from Stephen from God saying, “I’m not here anymore, I’m free and I’ve moved on to greater adventures with Jesus.”
Stephen we love you. We miss you. We will never forget you. Until we meet again in eternity.
Thoughts shared by Matthew McDonald – Stephen's Best Friend
Stephen was my best friend, but I saw him more as my brother. He was always by my side when we were growing up, and I owe it to him that I am the man that I am today. For those that knew Stephen, knew that he was the most open, kind, and extrovert person on planet earth. He could walk up to a group of strangers and strike up a conversation like he knew them a life time, And could have them tears from laughing so hard by the end of the conversation. He used to call anytime, anyplace no matter if he was at home, driving in his van, or even working. He always wanted to talk to you.
He absolutely loved his games and his anime, and it would bring a smile to my face when he would enthusiastically start to tell me about his favorite scene in a anime he watched, to then start to laugh his head off at a joke only he saw but you would instantly start laughing anyways because he could make you feel like you were there watching it with him. That;s how Stephen;s magnetic personality was.
When me and Stephen were younger. We weren't the brightest bulb in the drawer, We tried to make craft dinner one time at my house. we were chatting away, making a mess in the kitchen, not a care in the world. Getting water and cheese dust all over the place. We were in the final stages of our evening dinner until my dad walked in.. place a wreck. He looked at us and said what are you doing you fools. We looked at each other and looked at him. We were confused, he wasn't mad. He started laughing at us and we didn't know why. He said that isn't butter your putting into that. THAT;S LARD! We were shocked! We looked at each other once again. And immediately start to blame each other, saying it was the other ones idea to put it in, laughing because we both knew we didn't have a clue what we were doing. Needless to say, it didn't turn out very good. We still brought it up to this very day. Blaming each each other, both of us telling two different stories. But both of us knowing what actually happened. It was those stories and that time spent with Stephen that I will never forget, and will cherish forever.
It was Stephen's upbeat enthusiasm that shined brightest on the darkest of days. He was always there, regardless of where I was. And I'm thankful we were blessed with Stephen. He was a true gift from God and I am forever grateful he chose me to be his friend. I love you always and forever Stephen.
A YEAR HAS PASSED
(Poem written by Jennifer Inthof for Stephen (May 2020)
As each day comes,
As each day goes.
A year has passed,
Yet time has froze.
The summer sun,
The camp week missed.
A time to be thankful,
A Christmas to reminisce.
The twenty-fifth Birthday,
Shared as family.
Without your presence,
And your chair empty.
The joy of Easter,
The victory over death.
An assurance of life,
After the last breath.
The tears still fall,
As twelve months have passed.
The grief still aches,
As time crawls and moves too fast.
Yet, that day will come,
When God intends.
To join our hearts,
For all eternity, AMEN!
We miss you always Stephen,
Until we see your beautiful smile again
You remain in our hearts!!!