Is there something you left unsaid, but regret? Tell us about a time when you didn’t say what was on your mind, but wish you had.
I have a hard time knowing what to say or do in instances of ill-health or death. A few years ago when my brother and sister-in-law were preparing to have their third child, my sister-in-law started bleeding around her fourth month of pregnancy. She was put on bed-rest soon after, when she suddenly went into labor. My nephew was born four months early, an automatic death-sentence to some. The year that followed was a very trying time for them, and an anxious time for the rest of us as well. My brother and his wife disagreed over whether or not to take my nephew off of life support: my sister-in-law was trained as a neonatal nurse, she knew the statistics and didn’t want him to go through unneeded suffering; my brother didn’t want to give up hope so easily.
My brother and I have never been particularly close, in a brother and sister way. He was very rambunctious as a child and easily bored, so he often chose to focus his attentions on me; unfortunately it was often in a negative way. I was very quiet as a child, and suffered in silence with much anxiety. It was seen as an accomplishment to get a reaction out of me, I guess, and I gave all the right reactions: crying, yelling, hitting. I knew my brother wasn’t being purposely mean, I knew even at that young age that he was just bored, but it soon became his only way to interact with me. As we got older and he spent more time away from home, first as an ambitious and outgoing teenager with after-school jobs and various sports activities, then as a college student who came home to visit every few months, our relationship changed and grew. He showed more interest in me those first few years of college than he had my entire life, talking with me about the writing and art appreciation electives that he had chosen, knowing I had always had a great interest in them myself. As the years went by though, real life got in the way again. Our relationship went back to the distant way of our childhood, only “checking-in” with each other as a sense of responsibility. Our conversations settled around movies and music, until he joined me in parenthood himself.
I felt like my whole life I was just pulling on his shirt-tail, begging for attention, following him where ever he let me go. Once he married and started having children of his own, it was his wife who suggested we spend time together but it was me who often forced myself onto them, trying to fulfill those “we should get together” promises. It finally got to a point where I couldn’t do it anymore. I understood why he was the way that he was, he wasn’t being purposely flippant, he wasn’t intentionally making empty promises; it just was what it was and I didn’t want to pin my hopes on having the kind of sibling relationship I saw others having. it wasn’t fair to either of us, we just weren’t that way with each other. I needed to stop with the expectations, it was time to let it go.
Unfortunately I made this soul-searching decision and had started implementing it, less than a year before my nephew’s birth. How was I now supposed to act amidst this family crisis? This crisis that our side of the family could only share in through phone conversations and prayers because of the physical distance between our homes. I live the closest to my brother and his family, 2 and a half hours driving time. I could have rushed to his home during those long months…but to do what? they spent every waking minute they could at the hospital while my sister-in-laws family (who lived in the same town) took over looking after my nieces. I tried calling a handful of times within the first few months but I would either get a member of her family or the answering machine. I sent flowers, I sent cards, I sent cookies to the kids, I stayed updated weekly from my parents who my brother called often. I felt helpless, I felt anxious, I felt mad; maybe it was just better if I stayed out of the way.
That was not the right decision, I’ve been told. I should have asked to visit my nephew in the hospital (I didn’t know that was an option. I thought only parents and grandparents were allowed) I should have visited shortly after they brought him home for the first time, even though my own kids were suffering from strep throat; I could have found a way. I should have continued to call and only get the answering machine, so they at least knew I was trying. I should have done so many things but I didn’t. I stayed out of the way.
I met my nephew for the first time when he was nine months old, I became smitten with him the second time I met him at his first birthday party. He’s four years old now, little miracle that he is, so very happy and the ham of every gathering; the sparkle of my brother’s eye. I’ve since apologized to my brother for not being there for him during that difficult time. Our relationship has gone back to the way it used to be: promises of getting together that never materialize, phone calls that he initiates for birthdays, visits for children’s parties, holiday dinners at our parents. I try to look past the resentments and celebrate the good in him, the good in us. The silence between us is still there, apparently it’s just our way.