My stepmother, Bettye, is a remarkable woman.
She was married to my father, Don Kortus, for over 36 years, until his death a little more than a year ago.
While I miss Dad every day, I would miss him even more if we didn’t still have Bettye.
I just spent a week with Bettye over the Easter holidays— the first time she visited me without my father.
To be honest, I was a bit apprehensive about Bettye’s visit because I thought we would be so sad without Dad, and would spend the week being constantly reminded of his absence.
But, that was not the case at all.
Bettye joyfully talked about Dad all the time, and always had a comment about how much he would have enjoyed, or resisted, the things we did.
Dad would have loved sitting down to Easter dinner with his Florida family, enjoyed a fabulous Parade of Homes gala at a $2 million home in Lutz, and would have been charmed by historic Dade City and our southern-style lunch at Lunch on Limoges (although he would have been clueless about the French Limoges porcelain).
And, Dad would have hated our day at Busch Gardens, strolling down Seventh Avenue in Ybor City and lounging out by the pool.
But, Bettye loved it all — even sitting in my lanai when I was at work.
It was snowing when she left St. Paul, and Bettye never tired of calling friends back home with daily weather reports from Land O’ Lakes.
We even laughed that if there was anything positive about Dad being gone, it was that Bettye and I could plan our activities without Dad’s standard objection: “We’ve already done that — why would you want to do it again?”
And truthfully, we never would have had such an action-packed week, if Dad had been here.
Which brings me back to the remarkable strength and ongoing love that Bettye extolls. At age 84, her positive outlook on life and her many memories of Dad that she warmly shares, help me to accept that Dad is really gone, and reminds me that life goes on, and I have much to be thankful for.
I am so grateful for Bettye.
I first met her when I was a college student and Dad introduced her to me as his new girlfriend. This was almost four years after my mother died from breast cancer at age 48, leaving behind 10 children, the youngest just 10 years old.
My father taught seventh-grade social studies, and Bettye’s daughter was one of his students. They met at a parent-teacher conference. Dad admired Bettye’s fortitude as a single mother, and was impressed by her commitment to her children and their education.
A few years after my mother died, Dad and Bettye reconnected at a bowling alley where they played on different leagues. They began dating, and married in 1980.
I was 25 when they married, and had already moved to Florida. Dad and Bettye visited me every year, sometimes more than once. They were always here — at the most joyous and most difficult times of my life.
They were here for the births and christenings of my two children, Andy and Rachel. They were here for their graduations from high school and college. They helped my family make major moves from Florida to Chicago, and back to Florida again. And, they shared countless holidays and birthdays.
Dad and Bettye were also at my side during my darkest days, including a divorce after 25 years of marriage. They guided me as I rebuilt my business and encouraged me to open my heart to love again.
I always thought it was Dad who insisted he and Bettye visit every year, who made sure my children were loved as much as their grandchildren in Minnesota, and who helped me financially when I had nowhere else to turn.
I realize now that it was Bettye, as much as my father, who insisted on our close family connections through the years.
Bettye never took credit for their regular visits to Florida, or for forging the strong relationships between my children and their Minnesota grandparents.
She was the one who my father listened to, his partner for almost four decades, who quietly, behind the scenes, helped make Dad the man his children and grandchildren so admired and loved.
Today I want to honor and thank Bettye for being a marvelous mother to me, and endearing grandmother to Andy and Rachel.
She is a woman who influenced me more than I ever realized until this glorious Easter season that we shared together as mother and daughter, and as women who are working to overcome the almost unbearable loss of a husband and father.
Published April 26, 2017