In my childhood, I had many painful goodbyes with Dad, including two during my four months in hospitals when I was thirteen. One, the evening after I’d had a long operation, was compelled by the visiting hours that English hospitals strictly enforce. Here’s a passage from the chapter of my memoir called “Courage Comes to You”:
Dad came at the 7:30 visiting hour. “You were in there for five and a half hours.” I croaked a monosyllabic reply.
Soon it was too difficult to respond, even to listen. Weighed down by exhaustion, I had to ask, “Dad, I’m sorry, but can we stop talking for a while?” How was it possible? I loved listening to him talk.
“I’ll just sit here then, if that’s all right.”
Even Dad’s presence was a pressure. But when the end of the hour approached, I became afraid. What if I needed him during the night?
He said, “Goodnight.” He waited before standing up and leaving the ward. I pictured his tall back diminishing toward the exit. I couldn’t even call out to him.
Five weeks later, I was transferred from that Sheffield hospital to one in London. The time for our emigration to the United States had arrived. After the ambulance had taken me down to London, Dad and my brother would fly to New York. Mum and I wouldn’t join them there for months.
After six weeks on the hospital ward, I was about to be put in the ambulance. If it hadn’t been for Mum, who knows how long the process would have taken:
Outside, in the limitless world beyond the hospital ward, it was cold. I inhaled fresh air. I’d forgotten what it was like.
“Well,” Dad said, “I won’t be seeing you for a while.”
Up there on my left, Dad was crying. My lips trembled.
One ambulance man shouted something to the other. Mum said, “Come on, you two. They want to get going.”
“Bye, tiger.” Dad ruffled my hair.
Someone grabbed the handles at my head and pushed the stretcher in a half circle. The wheels grated on compacted stones and pebbles, a sensation harsher than any I’d known on my bike. Instead of rising from the base of my spine, it began at my head and worked down.
“Bye, Dad,” I called out. “I’ll think of you in America.”
Dad died this past Saturday evening, May 25.