Slam! Crunch! A 1950s-style ceramic bowl went crashing to the floor, spreading milk and Cheerios all over the red-and-white speckled linoleum. Suddenly laughter broke out.

It’s hard to know if I really recall my first memories, or if they come from family stories or old photos. My first memory of my mom has me sitting in a high chair as an infant, grabbing my bowl of cereal and putting it on my head like a hat. I can still remember my mom laughing. 

My second memory is of us standing in front of our house, me being held in my mom’s arms, and watching our garage burn to the ground. I can still feel Mom’s tears.

Life is about the dash. In my mom’s case, the dash came between 1927 and 2019. My mom passed five years ago this past week, on May 7. I miss her every day.

What you do with the dash is what matters.

The dash is all about moments and memories.

Last week, I attended the funeral of my Aunt Phyllis, my dad’s sister and my last aunt, and though it was somber, the memories that flooded back with the stories told by my cousins were priceless. She lived her dash well.

A friend, Richard Saul Wurman, the founder of the TED conferences, always says, “I live my life by the number of summers I have left.” Summers being a metaphor for those special times when we go out of our way to do special things.

He, too, is thinking about the dash.  Making sure the remaining summers are special.

More Funerals?

After the funeral, one of my cousins said… “We need to do this more often.” She did not mean a funeral, but having all her brothers and sisters and cousins and friends together. 

Family reunions serve an important purpose, but as families become more spread across a small world, reunions don’t come as frequently as when they are at the farm down the road. 

Oftentimes our parents are family glue. 

We gathered at my dad’s place every summer with most of the family. We showed up at his place at Christmas, and when we lived nearby, it was chicken dinner every Sunday night. All were invited.  

My dad learned that from his parents, who learned it from his grandparents. 

When the glue wears out, it can no longer hold a family together, and that responsibility falls on another family member. All too often I hear tragic stories of families no longer getting together. That’s been the case in our family since my dad passed. He would be heartbroken, as am I. But people have busy lives and live in faraway places.

The True Meaning?

I can’t answer all the questions about the meaning of life in this brief note, but as I look back on my own life, only a few work-related memories matter, and all of those are about the people I worked with or met, or an occasional business trip. 

But family memories, travel with friends and family, and time with friends or family are all that matter to me, other than my relationship with God. 

Put the Fun Back in Funerals

Funerals are the kick in the butt we need to realize that time is short and that if we’re not deliberate about a well-designed life, and going out of our way to create memories, we’ll one day look back and say… “I spent my life in my La-Z-Boy watching TV” — or surfing social media, or playing video games. That’s not life, that’s merely existence. 

Today, as we honor our moms, the best way to honor them is to keep family coming together and creating memories, and spending time with our moms if they are living. Being with family is what they would want.

Are you a pinball, or a car following a roadmap? Make a plan for the life you want to live, and make it happen. Only you can do it.

Eric Rhoads

PS: This is special for me today because we are expecting all three of our kids home to celebrate their mother, my bride, the love of my life. The thing we want most is that warm blanket of family around us, wishing it would last longer. This week is a double celebration — my wife and I will celebrate 27 years of marriage tomorrow. 

Once our moms leave us, Mother’s Day is hard, but the first one without her is the hardest. I just learned this will be the first motherless Mother’s Day for a friend who recently lost his mom. And it will be the first for my cousins. I feel your pain, your emptiness. Moms have always been there for us, and we don’t fully appreciate them till they are gone. Today, if you have your mom, give her a giant hug and just hold on and don’t let go. It’s a gift to both of you.

PS 2: The biggest event of my year starts on May 20 outside of Asheville, North Carolina, where we will hold our annual Plein Air Convention, a gathering of over 1,000 painters from all over the world. This is my other family. We all become very close, and this event is not just about learning and growing from top master artists, it’s our Thanksgiving, a chance to break bread and be with old and new friends. I don’t think there are any seats left, but if you go to the website, try joining the waitlist, something may have opened up. It would be fun to have you there.