Twenty-three years ago, I spent Halloween on a plane and a hurried car ride from Medford to Cave Junction arriving at five in the morning. By that time it was Dia de los Muertos—the day of the dead.
I slept about an hour in the rental car parked in dad’s driveway because I didn’t wish to wake them. I sat by his bedside through the day leaving once to make a trip to the local Foster’s Freeze to buy him a strawberry milkshake. I rejoiced to see him take two sips from it.
Around eleven that night, my thinking was foggy, and my eyes heavy. I laid down and closed my eyes not knowing it was the last time I would see my father alive. Silence woke us. We could not hear his labored breathing and a huge part of my soul crumbled.
There wasn’t time to mourn then. I had to get him ready for the ride to the funeral home… one last bed bath and a change of clothes. Duty before self, it was a gift he gave me and it was time to give back.
My father was a simple man, he told the truth when it hurt and bore his own hurts in silence. He was a great man without ever doing any of the things people associate with greatness.
Sometimes I forget to mark his birthday. I never fail to mark the day of his death. I think this is because while he lived, he was a constant presence in my life though we often were many miles apart. We spoke every weekend or wrote each other from the time I left home at seventeen until a month before he died.
I remember that last call. There was an unidentifiable something in his voice.
“Dad, are you okay?”
“No, my doctor sent me home. He said I have three or four days to live.”
His voice cracked a little as I began giving orders for the trip. As it turned out he lived a month. I dreamed one night while sitting with him of a young boy of ten or twelve running up a high mountain and the next day felt clear enough to make a quick trip home for a week before that final rush to his side.
When he died, that presence I relied on all my life was gone. Though I had family and friends who loved and cared for me, from that day on there was a loneliness inside me for the closest kindred soul I will ever know.
On the day he died, his brother Bill met us at his house. Out of the blue Uncle Bill, told a story about how he always remembered dad as a young boy running around the place. Dad’s young and free now.
But this day---the day of the dead, always haunts me. It doesn’t pass without tears. Not so much for him as for me. Go rest high on that mountain.