The last time I saw my brother-in-law alive, I behaved like a twenty-seven-year-old toddler. My husband and I had left our children with their aunt and uncle while we went on our anniversary date, which flopped from a romantic evening into an errand run. My husband tried to salvage the misguided attempt to both shop and grab dinner by getting frozen food from Trader Joe’s to prepare at our in-laws. Instead of accepting my attempt to cram a date in the night before we drove home was foolish, I pouted about the disastrous turn of events.
When we went to retrieve our children, my husband suggested we both go inside to eat and visit with our family once more before we went home. “I’ll just stay in the car,” I grumbled. I flipped onto my side in the passenger seat, closing my eyes and facing the window. My husband sighed and went inside, taking his Trader Joe’s frozen dinner with him. I stared out the window at the distant twinkle of the city lights on the horizon and felt sorry for myself. I thought it would be better to stay isolated while I was disappointed and grumpy. I thought that I could make up for it the next time we visited. I eventually dozed off, waking up to my daughters piling in the car and my niece knocking on the window to give me a hug.
I opened the door and hugged her from my seat. My sister-in-law hugged me next, and finally my husband’s brother. “See you next year,” he said. “See you next year. Love you, brother.” Those were the last words I ever exchanged with him. Three months later, in March, he crashed his motorcycle while riding with a friend. He remained minimally conscious until he passed away this December, three weeks before Christmas.
During the time he was in the hospital, I never had the opportunity to visit him. Living far away and with Covid-19 restrictions in place, we prioritized sending my husband back to town alone to visit his brother. I visited his wife and my nieces and nephews, but I was unable to go to the hospital at that time. As the months drew on and his recovery became unlikely, I recognized that it would be unlikely I ever saw him again. Unfortunately, this prediction came true.
I wish I had the opportunity to say goodbye properly, but I missed the chance when I had it. Because I was petulant and short-sighted last Christmas, the last moments I spent with him were brief and tainted with self-pity. My brother-in-law leaves behind a wife and four beautiful children, one of whom is so young that she may not remember the sound of her father’s voice, the touch of his calloused, mechanic’s hands, or the scratchy texture of his beard that made her laugh when they cuddled. All we can do is tell her of these memories as she ages.