This line – this entire piece, which is Neil Gaiman’s tribute to Iain Banks on The Guardian – hit me so hard that it actually, physically took my breath away.
Not because I’m a fan of Banks – I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve never read one of his novels. I only read the piece because Gaiman rocks my socks off these days. Anyway. It speaks of loss – unexpected loss, although I believe truly all loss is “unexpected” – in a way that really resonated with me.
This passage, in particular:
And then, a week later, with no warning, my friend Bob Morales died, and I was upset that I hadn’t replied to Bob’s last email, from a week or so before. So I replied to Bob’s last email, although I knew he’d never read it. And then I wrote to Iain. I told him how much I’d loved knowing him, how much I’d enjoyed being his friend, even if we only saw each other in the flesh every few years.
Followed shortly by:
And he wrote back and said good, comforting, sensible things. Goodbyes are few enough, and we take them where we can.
*Emotional rant warning: Leave if you’re not good with this sort of thing*
I never got a chance to say a proper goodbye to my father. He pretty much went from Real Dad > Coma Dad in the space of roughly 10 minutes, while I was in res at University, and then from Coma Dad > Dead Dad in the space of 14 months.
And as much as you can talk to Coma Dads, unlike in the movies, they don’t wake up if you ask them to squeeze your hand if they can hear you. And they definitely don’t talk back.
One of my life’s biggest regrets – as stupid as it is, is the fact that I cut short that holiday at home – the very last holiday I would have with my father – for the first time ever, in favour of going to visit a friend in the Eastern Cape. My next holiday, I was doing a work experience in Cape Town, so I couldn’t have gone home. I know that I couldn’t have known what would have happened. I get all that.
But I thought we would have more time. Years and years more. He was 49 when he had his stroke.
(As a result of this, I have the biggest fear of abandonment/loss/change. But that’s not the point of this column.)
You know, I thought I had a point to all of this. Perhaps it is this: Reply to the email, even if it is a one-liner. Tell people that you love them (God knows I should practice what I preach here, I’m pretty much physically incapable of saying the L-word, even when sober). Hug your friends and mean it.
And fuckit, forgive yourself when something awful happens and you didn’t do all those things, or say goodbye in the way you wanted to.
The day I said goodbye to my father was two months before he died. It was the way I wanted to say goodbye, the way I needed to say goodbye at that particular time, but the movie fan in me kept on hoping his eyelids would flutter open, he would see me, actually see me and he would say my name.
Goodbyes are few enough, and we take them where we can.