A Memory of Grace
Being a doctor, my father made a bad patient. I guess it's like working in a restaurant where you wouldn't dream of eating. He especially hated being in the hospital, but from time to time he landed there, and then he disobeyed all rules, getting up when he was supposed to lie down, lying down when he was supposed to get up, not to mention the contraband sherry and cigarettes smuggled into his hospital room. Once, after surgery, he was in the intensive care unit at New York Hospital, a bit delirious but very sure he wanted a smoke. "Daddy," I said, feeling like a Goody Two-Shoes, "Look at this oxygen tank. Do you know what would happen if we lit a cigarette in here?" "Boom?" he asked, with a happy smile.
My father was very sick the last few years of his life, and this long illness he bore with a stoicism I didn't inherit. I don't remember ever hearing him complain. The most he allowed himself was, "I'm feeling a bit seedy," and by that we knew he was suffering. When he went into the hospital for what turned out to be the last time, his kidneys were failing. My mother said something breezy about him coming home in a couple of days and turned to leave. She was exhausted, and had grown almost used to his hospital stays. "I just want to warn you"—my father spoke in a gentle voice—"that if this is renal failure, I may not be coming home in a couple of days." He died two days later, surrounded by family.
My father broke our hearts with his courage. I am not going to follow his example. I plan to make a scene, to go kicking and screaming all the way out, my embarrassed children at my side. Death is bad enough without the unbearable memory of grace.
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