The narrator's father is in the hospital awaiting surgery that might be his last. She and her sister have been coming to the hospital regularly during his prolonged stay, and have become familiar with the cast of characters there, including an old man in a state of dementia who wanders the halls asking directions. The narrator reflects on her family, what can be spoken of and what can't, the different reactions they have to hospital regulations, crisis, impending loss.

She longs to tell her father she loves him, but is constrained by family reserve. As the family gathers at his bed before the surgery, she comes to realize some things will never be fully expressed, but must remain implicit. The unspoken is part of the loss she recognizes as she faces her father's death.


What is most delightful and memorable about this story is the complex weave of humor, grief, irony, longing, and clear-eyed assessment of the reality of death and loss. It bears multiple readings, especially with groups interested in illness and the family. The narrator's emotional honesty is both entertaining and cathartic. Her unsentimental, critical assessment of hospital life is offset by the candor with which she recognizes her own need for love and family in a difficult time.

Primary Source

Acquainted with the Night


Harper & Row

Place Published

New York



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