Green Scottish pines sway outside the window of my hotel room in Jupiter, Florida. The needles are almost a foot long, rich in brilliant green and dull brown colors, with little cones sticking out at the ends of the fuzzy branches. A dark, gloomy sky looms overhead.

I left here last Sunday morning after a successful four-day online art event (PleinAir Live) with word that I needed to get to Florida because my father was entering the next and last phase of his life. I dreaded the trip and what I would face.

An RV Trip

Just two weeks ago, Laurie and I were here for a two-week stay that ended up being close to a month. I extended it because I had a feeling that it might be the last time I get with my dad. It was worth taking two more weeks away from work. 

The Best Month Ever

When we were here my dad was still himself, just a little slower than normal. Talking up a storm, giving me advice, getting us ready for his next chapter, and communicating clearly. Though his treatments dragged him down, he was strong and vital, just a little less so than normal. And we were encouraged that the treatments would work, his strength would return, and at 94, he could see a couple more years or more. He always saw himself living to be the oldest person alive.

Rapid Change

But things change fast. We found him in hospice care, confined to a bed, able to hear and respond, but with a weak and hard-to-understand voice. Such a change from this larger-than-force of nature with the big, booming voice. 

A Tough Week

We spent the week, in small moments between rest, talking to him, bringing in family members, and watching smiles come to his face with the joy family brought him. Each day is the same, though a little worse. Yet each day is a blessing. My goal is to be at his side when he graduates his time on earth and moves to his time in Heaven. Having been with my mom, I found it a beautiful experience, and I want him to know we are there. My eyes well up as I write about the inevitable.

Fearing No More

As a kid, as long ago as I can remember, I always feared that my dad would die. Probably because I had seen other kids’ dads die, and though I knew of our family longevity, I always feared it. I feared it the same at 12 as I did at 50. I loved my dad so much, I just could not imagine life without him, and how difficult it would be. Yet here I sit, at his bedside, and I’ve come to terms, knowing his peace and that he is merely changing his address. I cannot imagine believing there is nothing more, nothing better. And I always knew this because my parents and grandparents always talked about the ticket to Heaven — that it was simple, required no works, was not about being good or bad, it was simply about accepting the word of John:3:16.

Some of my readers will be offended. That’s not my intent. Some will consider me a simple-minded person who believes in fairy tales. I’m OK with that.

So what’s this got to do with you?

Life is short, then you die. If you’re lucky, you’ll die instantly. If you’re unlucky, you may die a long and painful death. In either case, the end result is the same.

Quick Deterioration

This reminds me that in an instant, you can go from a vibrant, viable, strong human to one facing the final moments, weak, frail and unable to fend for yourself, unable to control anything.

If you operate as if there is no tomorrow, and make today a day you can be proud of, that’s the best we can be. 

Act Fast

Do not delay that thing you’ve always dreamed of doing. Three weeks ago my dad, who expected to recover, was talking about places he wanted to travel. He wanted to take an RV trip with us; he loved being in an RV. Today, that’s no longer possible. 

Someday is like smoke. It can drift away as a vapor, very quickly. Don’t live on somedays. Live on todays. 

Those dreams you have need to happen. If they are important to you, don’t wait. You’ll find a way. 

If you’re telling yourself you don’t have the time … you do have it, you just have to choose to take it. Do it before you truly don’t have any time left.

Take the trip. Build the dream business. Take up something you’ve told yourself you want to do. One day, it will be you, or me, lying on a bed waiting to catch the train out of life.

Not So Bad Anymore

I have my aches, my moments of aging, but suddenly I feel they are nothing. I have things to do, places to visit, and have to assume I have very little time to get them all done. Though we hope for the best, doing things now is important. And doing them with the people you love is critical. 

On the final breath, it’s not going to be about how many hours you worked. The money you made won’t matter. All that matters is who is there with you, who loves you so much they are willing to be at your side, for as long as it takes. 

Spend your time on love, developing friendships, helping others, and living your impossible dreams, or at least knowing you truly tried. And invest deeply in the gold that will be with you to the end, those you love.

Eric Rhoads