Don Stewart didn’t get around to playing his guitar during his 38-year long marriage to his wife, Kit. Life was perfectly full already: They raised five children. Don worked in engineering. And Kit managed their home, wrote a successful novel and, at 50, earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing from UNC.
But when Kit passed away in 2010 at the age of 58, making music was just about the only thing Don could bring himself to do. “I started playing afterward because I was just in shock,” he recalls. “I couldn’t watch TV; I couldn’t read; I couldn’t do anything. I wasn’t even sure if I had a guitar anymore. But it was still there, so I started playing and writing songs.”
His loss became paradoxically generative. Don crafted 77 songs in all, eventually delivering them to Chris Wimberley of Nightsound Studios in Carrboro. “Don had been writing songs day and night for quite some time,” Chris recalls, “trying to wrap his mind and heart around what he was going through. Having lost my dad the year before, seeing someone in that place really resonated with me.” Recognizing a “truly unique talent,” Chris guided Don through the production of a five-song EP, now titled Someday, and coordinated a slew of local vocalists to lend their voices to the project: Dexter Romweber, Heather McEntire of Mount Moriah, and Pete and Andrea Connolly of Birds and Arrows to name a few.
Chris also suggested donating the sales proceeds to a charity, an idea Don loved. The struggle, however, was choosing a specific cause. “It finally dawned on me,” Don says. “Why don’t I just give it to the hospice where Kit died, which is Duke Hospice at the Meadowlands in Hillsborough.”
“I just hope that as many people as possible donate whatever they can to help,” Don says, “and I’m kind of hoping that it will wake people up to how great hospice is. … My mother died of cancer at a hospice a year [after Kit], and they treated her like she was a queen. She was there for six weeks, and she died with dignity.”
In spite of the talent and the cause the EP embraces, Don still has one worry. “People who hate Duke, I’m afraid they won’t want to donate,” he says, “but Chapel Hill and Carrboro don’t have a hospice they can go to, so it services Orange County. And people often think, ‘Oh, it’s Duke. They don’t need the money,’ but that’s not really true.”
Duke Hospice’s Director of Development Dee Blake explains that, “Duke HomeCare & Hospice is a separate entity within the Duke University health care system. We are responsible for managing our income and expenses just like any for-profit business, but we are a nonprofit business and do not turn anyone away regardless of insurance coverage or ability to pay.” In addition to caring for patients, hospice continues to help families by counseling caretakers and surviving family members.
Don notes that while the tangible goal is to donate to a worthy cause, there’s an intangible goal, too. “I’m hoping that if it helps one person, not to feel better about what they’re going through, but at least to know that they’re not alone, then that’s pretty cool.”