When I worked for a funeral home after high school, I was able to see clearly how much holidays can become attached to a death in the family.
Years later, that holiday for me became Labor Day. Dad didn't even die on Labor Day, but it was the last time I got to spend any significant time with him. We drove from Kansas back to Oklahoma to spend some time helping around the house because my dad had suffered a couple of falls while working at his janitorial jobs and around the house.
We didn't know why he had fallen, but during that weekend, he digressed from a bad limp to needing a cane to get around the house. One day after I got back to Kansas, dad couldn't even get out of bed on his own.
I called a friend, who is a pastor, who took a wheelchair from his church to my parents' house and helped my mother get my dad into the car to take him to the emergency room.
The old phrase, "It was all downhill from there," has never been more appropriate. Dad never was able to walk again. Each day, it seemed like he lost another motor function and no one knew why. He hadn't had a stroke. He didn't have meningitis. There were no tumors. His diagnosis was never clear. He was set to begin occupational therapy to help him relearn some motor skills when a neurologist figured out that he suffered from a condition called Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease.
Basically, a protein in his brain cells transformed into an abnormal protein and caused quick and permanent damage. The symptoms look like rapid-onset dementia and are accompanied by trouble walking and even some neurological symptoms depending on which part of the brain is being affected. I'll never forget opening a window shade to let in natural light and seeing my dad panic because he thought the room was on fire.
Days before the first symptoms showed themselves, dad was working at a soup kitchen, doing his janitorial work and mowing a lawn for a widow next door. In less than a month, he was gone.
It's been nine years since he died.
I didn't talk to my dad every day. I lived in another state. His death didn't interrupt my daily schedule.
Looking back, I wish it would have. I think of all I missed while he was alive. It seems like every day now there is something I wish I could talk to him about. Don't worry, this isn't a column about how I learned my lesson, stopped being a workaholic and call my mother every day.
None of that is true.
I would love to know what my dad thought about the pandemic and all of the hyperbolic reactions to it.
He would not have been a fan of Donald Trump. Dad was a union treasurer for 43 years. He didn't like the big boss type much. Don't read union and think "liberal" though. My dad was a Southern Baptist church deacon and sang in the choir, ran Sunday School classes and worked at a soup kitchen several days each week.
He was a real conservative who believed the Bible and the words out of his mouth matched the work of his hands and feet. He didn't use religion for his own benefit by spouting platitudes to change what people thought about him. Other than my mom, I can't think of a person who dad cared to impress.
He took Biblical teachings to heart and helped make life better for others.
He would have been vaccinated and worn a mask anytime he needed to - or was asked to. He had concern for others and would have done anything he could to get life back to normal.
Dad cared about people, not politics. He gave a lot of time, money and hard work to serve others.
It's been nine years since dad died. I guess time has helped in some ways, but missing him now seems worse in other ways.
Every day without him reminds me of all the time I could have had that I didn't take advantage of and has caused regret to replace grief.
One thing I don't regret is the man I knew as a father. I hope one day people can see me as half the man he was. I'll consider that a good life.
Kent Bush is the editor of the Rapid City Journal. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org