LAWRENCE: Missing Dad, now and foreverDad was always a strong man. When he was a teenager, he worked alongside grown men on a Works Progress Administration crew.
By: Tom Lawrence, The Daily Republic
It’s something I’ve done thousands of times.
A baseball game was starting on TV Sunday afternoon, and I reached for the phone to call my dad. His love for baseball and softball was passed directly to me, and we always enjoyed watching and discussing a game, or tipping each other off that one was on TV.
But I quickly realized I could not make that call, and can never do so again. My dad died on Feb. 16.
His passing was peaceful and very easy, or so it seemed. I was holding his hand at 11:07 a.m. that morning as his labored breathing eased, slowed, and finally halted.
Dad was always a strong man. When he was a teenager, he worked alongside grown men on a Works Progress Administration crew.
He grew into a solid, powerful man with thick fingers, a man who could hammer a baseball hundreds of feet, toss a 100-pound hay bale with ease, or easily pick up a newborn calf and carry it to a pen lined with straw.
Dad also had a gentle side. He had wonderful penmanship, an appreciation for humor, and a genuine curiosity about people. He loved to talk, and to learn more about people.
I think he would have been a far better reporter than me, and he assisted me with dozens of stories over the years. Dad also instilled an appreciation for history, books and newspapers.
He was an avid reader, and paged through newspapers even in the final days of his 92 years on earth. My sister Mary took a photo of him with The Brookings Register that showed his desire to keep learning and living.
His final month on Earth was a battle, and one that we thought he had a chance to win, as he had in the past when he overcame prostate cancer in his 70s, and fought back from other illnesses and losses, including that of his wife in 1995, and his daughter, Anita, last summer.
On the morning of Jan. 14, he was not feeling well, and I was called by the manager of the Volga assisted living facility where he had resided for more than five years.
The staff, and a physician’s assistant who had seen him, thought Dad was developing pneumonia. Would I mind coming to pick him up and take him to the hospital?
Over the years, Dad and I had gone on hundreds, if not thousands, of rides together. When I was young, he drove, pointing out crops, farmhouses, and telling me stories about them.
In the last several years, I took the wheel, but Dad still did most of the talking, which was fine with both of us. I learned a lot from him, and we both enjoyed the rides so much.
We had no way of knowing, as I picked him up and drove the seven miles to Brookings, that it would be his final ride.
Dad had in fact suffered a major heart attack. At his age, the doctors, nurses and staff were sure his time was very short, and they tried to brace us for the sad news.
I struggled to accept that, and was so pleased when he battled back. Dad grew stronger, and talked of going for drives again. We thought there was hope, at least for a few more months.
We were so concerned about him that we rallied to his side. I made five trips to Brookings in the final 33 days of his life, and my three sisters and older brother were also with Dad in his last month. We took turns, and often more than one of us were with him, hoping for a recovery, or at least a peaceful finish to his life and final struggle.
His age, and the severity of the heart damage, would not allow him any more innings. In the final days, he grew weaker and weaker.
It is an amazing thing to sit by your father’s bed and wish that he would pass away. It is an incredible thing to be advised by nurses and a pastor to tell your dad that he needs to go on, to discover what awaits him in the next world.
Dad was always sure he knew what that was. He was a man of faith, and his final days were eased by that. The end was quiet and easy, and the funeral was traditional and filled with memories and stories. Dad’s mortal remains ended alongside his wife, on a hill surrounded by the graves of his family and friends.
He was a man of the South Dakota soil, born and raised on a farm that he worked for decades. It is a fitting place for him.
But I want to take him for another drive, to talk about baseball, and farming and South Dakota politics … anything, really. I’d love to hear his stories again, and to glean some new details from them, as I have been lucky enough to do in the past few years.
My great friend Ray lost his father last summer. Ray Oines Sr. was 90, and was a kind, good man.
As we talked after my dad’s viewing Tuesday night, Ray said while we wanted more time with our fathers, we could not be greedy. We had them for decades, and they had lived for most of a century.
There’s a lot to be grateful about, and a great deal to remember and cherish. That will have to comfort us.
I have to admit, though, that I sure would like to make one more call and hear that voice at least once more. I’ll get over it in a few decades, if I’m lucky.