It was our second Day in Davos, Switzerland. We were visiting our Swiss family because COVID had kept their visits to the cape from happening for two years. Uncle Billy’s health was not good, so Dad and I decided to go to them in mid-October for a visit. Just in time for Billy’s 77th birthday.
At dinner that night Billy was quiet and ate little. He went to bed early. The next day was Saturday and we – Billy, Reeli, cousin George, Dad, and I – piled into a car and drove the windy, skinny, steep, white-knuckling roads up to cousin Anne’s cabin about twenty five minutes away. The sun was shining and the temperature was perfect. We enjoyed some conversation over a delicious lunch. Billy sat quietly in a chair, bundled up in multiple layers.
It got “snakey” as Dad might say, when it was time to go home. Billy struggled to get up from his seat. He was incredibly weak and lacked any balance. Once we were back home he settled into his rocking chair with a coke to drink and a cigarette to smoke, while all of us non-doctors made out diagnoses; Maybe it’s your blood sugars? Maybe you’re dehydrated? I think maybe you sat for too long? Or maybe it’s your blood pressure again?
Reeli came into the room after speaking with the doctor on the phone and told Billy that unfortunately, he needed to go back to the hospital so they could take a look at him. Reeli left the room and Billy sat with this information. The poor man has been in and out of hospitals for months now.
“Crap” he said, resignedly and to no one in particular.
He began to rise slowly with difficulty, and Dad stood too, stepping forward to steady his brother. Dad reached out to hold Billy’s arm but instead Billy grabbed his big brother’s hand. Dad shifted to stand in front of him and then they held both hands while facing each other.
I’ve seen these two hug. I have seen these two move boats together, laugh at the dinner table, have quiet conversations, do puzzles, fix things at Scott’s End in the cape, but this moment of hand-holding was the most intimate exchange I had ever witnessed between the two of them, and I had to tamp down the lump that came up in my throat. All of a sudden they were children, somehow. Little boys. Big brother was guiding little brother over boulders in a stream, or maybe steadying him while he learned to walk.
In truth, I do not know if these two had this type of relationship, but that is what came into my mind during the few seconds that my father steadied my uncle before then moving next to him and holding his arm.
Dad guided him to the door, and as he shuffled away, my uncle, with his back now to me, told me, “See ya!”
“See ya!” I said back.
Since he spent the remainder of our visit, including his birthday, in the hospital and the pandemic-limited visits appropriately went to Dad and my aunt Reeli, that was the last exchange I had in person with my uncle while in Switzerland.
I am more than OK with that. It is not finite. “See ya” is not goodbye. It is not mushy or sentimental.
It’s just “See ya!”.
A few days later, Dad and I were sitting having breakfast in Billy and Reeli’s beautiful home outside Zurich where we would stay for the last few days of our visit (Reeli stayed behind in Davos for Billy). As we sat there enjoying our coffee and croissants, Dad asked, “What do you think? Am I going to see my brother again?”
It was a heavy question. One you ask a friend. I am glad he asked me. I felt like I knew what to say “Honestly, I think something like this can go south so fast. But Billy seems to have knocked on death’s door more times than I can count and I truly wouldn’t be shocked if he showed up at Scott’s End next summer. I really wouldn’t.”
I hope I’m right. That would be very nice.