I never thought it would take this long to write a column about my father’s death. I’ve tried many times to share this news with you, but my sorrow was too raw to write more than a paragraph or two.
Donald Valentine Kortus died Jan. 26, in the home where he lived for 60 years in Maplewood, Minnesota. After deciding against treatment for late-stage cancer, he came home from the hospital on a cold winter afternoon to be cared for by his daughters, immersed in his family’s love.
My father’s death came fast, but he was good with that. He was already suffering from back pain when he fell down on Christmas Eve, while preparing for the annual Christmas Day festivities that he and his wife, Bettye, always host for their children and their families.
The fall added to other pains our father kept from us, which he brushed off as normal for someone who was almost 88 years old. However, after Christmas his pain intensified and his mobility decreased, and Dad began to lose the independence he valued so much.
After his second hospitalization within two weeks, I decided to fly home on a Friday
afternoon to see Dad and help with his care. Just five days later, he was gone.
To lose a parent is always difficult. But, for me and my brothers and sisters, to lose our father was unthinkable. Our mother had died 40 years earlier when she was just 48, and our father was left to parent by himself 10 children between the ages of 10 and 24.
I sometimes wonder if our mother had not died so young, whether Dad would have become such a remarkable father — the type our cousins and friends envied, and one who became a surrogate father to so many.
In the 1960s and ’70s, he was a hardworking father who held down two jobs to support his family. He had little time to parent, outside of being the disciplinarian when our mother needed help. But, after Mom died, Dad seemed to seamlessly make the transition to becoming both mother and father.
His enduring love, patience, forgiveness, guidance, and unabated belief and support of our dreams, was the foundation that shaped the lives of his children, grandchildren and all the others whom Dad embraced as part of his family.
It’s important to know that my father’s Catholic faith was central to his life. So when his doctors told him he had no more than a few months to live, my father said with all certainty that he did not fear death and could not wait to enter the Kingdom of God.
Dad told us this on Saturday, and we brought him home on Sunday. Monday afternoon at 3 p.m., his parish priest gave him the last Sacraments, and his daughters watched him take his last breath Tuesday morning at 3:45 a.m.
Dad asked us not to mourn his death, but to celebrate his life and to pray for his entry into heaven.
But of course, we did mourn, and still do. We think about him every day — I often reach for the phone to call him with news about my children, or seek advice about the latest challenge facing this newspaper.
My, how my father loved this paper.
He read it cover-to-cover every week, and often remarked that he knew more about the happenings of Land O’ Lakes and Lutz than he did his hometown.
My father is the biggest reason why The Laker and Lutz News are such good community newspapers. Dad would often call me with comments on that week’s stories, and make suggestions on how we could make the paper even better — whether I wanted to hear that or not.
He would notice — and worry — when our ad count was down, and shake his fist in disbelief that every business in town wasn’t advertising in such a “fine newspaper that I’m sure everybody reads.”
My father was so proud that I was this newspaper’s publisher. I realize now that much of my drive and motivation came from wanting to make him proud.
One of my father’s last requests to me before he died was not to write a column about his death.
After I wrote about the birth of my grandson last summer, Dad told me that my publisher’s column had run its course. He said my readers were undoubtedly bored with my boastful stories about my children and family, and he said I needed some humility and should find other things to write about.
But today — eight months since my father left this world — I have decided to write this column after all. Because I want you to know about the good man who was my father, and of the love he had for this newspaper and me. That love will forever shape the person I am, and these newspapers that I lead.
Published September 14, 2016