The Morning Call learns from experience

In early spring 2020, my parents made plans to travel to Hawaii in December of that year.  December 18 would be their 55th wedding anniversary, and they decided they’d go early (they normally went in January) to celebrate.  They loved Hawaii.  They’d probably been 25 times or more over the years.  They’d owned several different timeshares on the Big Island and finally owned one they thought was worth all the trouble and the costs.

In August, my dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, so they both knew this would be their last trip (not to mention their last anniversary).  Unfortunately, the state of Hawaii then issued travel restrictions and conditions, first mandating a 14-day quarantine for all travelers from out of state, then offering to waive the quarantine if a visitor tested negative for COVID, then adding back the quarantine for some locations, and then rescinding those as well.  The whole thing was a mess, and my folks decided just to cancel their trip.

Because of COVID.

My dad died on June 23rd.  He never made that last trip.  They never made that last trip, together.

About a week or so after my dad passed, my mom asked me (and the lovely and talented Mrs. Stephen Soukup) if we and our kids would like to go with her to Hawaii, before she sold the timeshare.  We agreed wholeheartedly and began planning our winter getaway.  As we did, however, “Delta” became a thing, and the Hawaiian government (and various local governments) began hemming and hawing about whether or not travel restrictions would be required again, whether vaccine passports would be necessary to dine out, etc.  With one child ineligible for a vaccine because of his age, we all agreed we would just have to put the trip off until the spring, after the school year is over.  Which we did, in the hope that maybe then, we could travel freely.

Because of COVID.

A few weeks later, my 15 year-old-son – a musical polymath who plays piano and drums and is learning guitar – asked if he and I could go to a concert that he thought we’d both enjoy – a ‘90s alternative rock band that he knew I had listened to and that he had started listening to.  I told him that the concert was only a few days before I was scheduled to fly to DC for a big event put on by a conservative charitable foundation (whose funding I am seeking) and then for an in-studio interview (my first of 150 or so book-related interviews).  I couldn’t go to the concert, I said, for fear of getting sick.  So, we didn’t buy tickets.

Because of COVID.

Last Friday evening (September 3rd), my youngest son made scrambled eggs and bacon with his grandmother (my mom).  Then the two went out for ice cream – because that’s what you do.  The next day, the aforementioned 15-year-old went over to his grandmother’s house to help her set up music players on the top two floors of the house because she liked to have music on when she was at home.  With my dad gone, it helped occupy her mind and helped ease the loneliness.  My mom brought him home just before she headed out to Mass that evening.

The next day, Sunday, I called her at about 6:00 PM to see if she wanted to go with all of us to get ice cream (again…because that’s what you do).  She didn’t answer.  I left a message and then texted her.  “If you get this in the next 30 minutes, we’re going to get ice cream….”

On Monday – Labor Day – I called her a couple of times in the afternoon.  Again, no answer.  Ah well, I figured.  I know her friends Bill and Kathy had invited her out for burgers and swimming.  And I know she jumps at any excuse not to be home alone.

On Tuesday morning, I called her to see how the burgers were.  Yet again, no answer.  I told the lovely and talented Mrs. Stephen Soukup that I would probably go check on my mom at lunchtime.  A few minutes before lunch, the lovely and talented Mrs. Stephen Soukup called to say that she was almost to my mom’s house, and she would check in on her, so I didn’t have to.

Five minutes later she called back, crying.  “You have to come over here to talk to the police, but I don’t want you to go in the house.  You don’t want to see her.”

Based on the fact that Sunday’s, Monday’s, and Tuesday’s newspapers were on the front doorstep, the sheriff’s deputy who conducted the official investigation estimated that she had died Saturday night.  Based on the position of her body and of the kitchen chair she had been seated in – plus the fact that there were no signs of head injury and no blood – he inferred that she had stood up (from doing a crossword puzzle that was still on the table) and had a massive heart attack.

She never got to go back one last time to Hawaii.  Because of COVID.

My 15-year-old said to me, “I like 311.  Of all the ‘90s alternative bands, they stayed consistent and continue to make music in their own, unique style.  And of all the ‘90s alternative bands, they’re the only one that didn’t have a member or two die from a heroin overdose.  Most of all, though, of all the ‘90s alternative bands, they’re the one that’s from Nebraska.”

About 6:00 last evening, I popped open the Ticketmaster website and bought the two best tickets still available for the 311 concert at Pinewood Bowl (a great little local outdoor venue).

Because F**K COVID.

Fifteen months ago, my kids had three living grandparents.  Today they have none.  NONE of the three died of COVID.  Two of them were forced to postpone things they loved because of the virus and then died before they could do them.  The other one sits in his urn in my front coat closet, waiting for a proper burial with his family and friends at the military cemetery in Omaha, which he has been denied thus far.

Because of COVID.  (No more than five guests graveside at a federal cemetery…yadda, yadda, yadda…)

I am not a COVID denier.  I am not an anti-vaxxer or even an anti-masker.  I think the virus is serious and deadly.

But then, lots of things are serious and deadly.  And if we continue to put off living forever, for fear of dying, we’ll never live again.  I have seen, first-hand, that death comes for us all, no matter how we protect ourselves against COVID and no matter how much actual living we give up for fear of it.

I have also been reminded, first-hand, of what a brilliant bassist P-Nut Wills is.  He is Flea and Jack Bruce rolled into one, but without actually the downside of actually being Flea or Jack Bruce.  I have been reminded first-hand that live music is a blast.  I have learned that too many Gen X-ers don’t know how much weight they’ve gained and look silly flailing around at a Gen X-er concert.  I have learned that some Millennials are 40 years old already and look much older.

Most of all, I have learned that a goofy old man and his 15-year-old son can have a very good time at a concert together, despite the former thinking that the latter is one of the aforementioned Gen X-ers who look pretty silly.

I’m done waiting for COVID end to start living again.  If our ruling class doesn’t do the same, and soon, they’ll discover that there’s no living to be done.


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