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LIFE WILL NEVER BE THE SAME WITHOUT MY BEST FRIEND

It's been more than a month now since I lost my best friend. It seems like just yesterday. I've discovered that "forever" is a hard concept to accept. Even now, I find myself looking to see his car pulling into my driveway, picking me up for lunch or a trip to the golf course.

Some years ago, I had written about our relationship, and the story was printed in the local paper. This is much harder to put into words. I never thought that anything could make us closer than we already were. That is, until his fight with cancer.

During his time in the hospital, we were able to talk about things that I had never felt comfortable discussing with him. I remember a time that I would avoid any conversations regarding his age because I never wanted to think of him as a senior citizen.

When I accidentally discovered he had turned 77, way back when, I had to confront the thought that he wouldn't be here forever. I could put it out of my mind, though, because he acted 10 years younger.

Every season brought something for us to do together. His influence made me so sports-minded. Granted, we had quite a few years' difference between us, but it never mattered. When the time came that he could no longer participate, he was always there to watch me and encourage me. Whether it was my occasional decent bowling score or more frequent good round of golf, he bragged about me as if he had done it himself.

Even a couple of weeks before he died, he had educated visitors to his room about how I played in California and at Hyde Park. (It was a little embarrassing at times, though. After all, I am over 40).

I went through a period of being angry at God. When I wondered aloud why he wasn't, he reminded me that people much younger than him had to deal with similar situations. I couldn't come up with a good response to that one.

I was truly blessed to have had him in my life. I tried my best to show him how much I loved him. For some reason, it had always been hard to say the words.

I used to plan out well ahead of time the moment I would break down and tell him. But it got a lot easier. We had actually gotten to the point that rather than squeeze his hand or foot, I would kiss him when I left his room. Initially on the cheek, and when I realized how good that felt, I discovered I could kiss his lips and not feel "weird."

I bragged about him quite often, especially when I compared him to younger men. At the funeral, many people who knew him weren't even aware of his accomplishments.

As a newlywed, he landed in Normandy as a platoon sergeant. In later years, he traveled to several countries as an employee of Kimberly-Clark to assist with new paper mill start-ups. After raising us kids when mom died, people just knew him as a helluva man.

Even at 85, he would rather have had a golf club or fishing pole in his hand than a TV remote control.

I've been called many things in my life, some bad, but mostly good. None of them made me feel any better, or any prouder, than when he would call me "son."

I miss you, dad, and I love you.

LEN BUTSKI lives in Lewiston.

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