The title of the book was "Day of the Dead."
Calling it ironic didn't begin to describe it.
It lay sprawled across the arm of the overstuffed and worn brown leather chair in which my dad liked to read. The book was face down, the pages not quite split in half. He'd been on page 249.
A quick look at the lines etched across the book's spine explained it had been read before. It must have been a favorite of his.
I picked it up and flipped it over to read the title.
"Day of the Dead."
Mom cannot see this.
So I hid it. A desperate act of protection.
For her. And for me.
My suitcase lay open on the bed from where I'd left it earlier. We hadn't been home very long. Just a couple of hours. My father's fatal heart attack took place just that morning, but it already seemed like a lifetime ago.
I shoved the book beneath an old sweatshirt. Then I sat down to cry.
This will be my first Father's Day without the man who was half responsible for my existence on the planet.
I've dreamed about him in the months since he died. Unlike other relatives who have passed from this life but frequently inhabit my dreams in a living form, my dad is always, always absent in that murky world of sleep.
Dreaming of family gatherings, noticing he's not there.
Dreaming of packing his belongings, wondering where they'll end up.
Dreaming of memories he was present for, puzzled at how he's suddenly been wiped from the scene as easily as someone taking an eraser to a chalkboard.
It's like living the same nightmare over and over and over until finally my subconscious lets me go to return to the world of the awake and the living.
There are nights I don't want to go to sleep but know I must.
There's nowhere to run when you dream.
I placed the book on the table beside the bed when I returned home after the funeral. Not on the bookshelf in the family room with all the others.
No. It belonged closer to me, in my inner sanctum. A tangible reminder - something real - that had once belonged to my dad. Like a relic of some lost civilization, it needed its own dedicated space to exist without risk of interference from others.
I realize it's probably that last thing he ever touched...except for the telephone he used to dial 911 that terrible morning.
There the book stayed - unread and untouched - for months. I didn't even take it out to dust around it, just moving the rag around its edges. Touching it would mean I'd have to deal with it. And I just wasn't ready.
Until today. Like a grieving widow who suddenly decides its time to throw off the black and pull a daring red shirt from her closet, I knew it was time to take that first step.
I picked the book off the table and gently ran my hand down its cover.
"Day of the Dead."
Immediately I saw the image of my father - knowing something was terribly wrong - dropping the book onto the chair and reaching for the phone.
Did he feel much pain?
Did he know he was going to die on that hot August morning?
Did he realize he had only a few more moments to live?
Did he remember how much we loved him?
They are questions to which I'll never know the answers. I'm not meant to, and I understand that.
I opened the book and began to read.
(originally published June 4, 2008)