Mourning doves coo like a soft flute from the windows of Mrs. Holland’s sixth-grade music class at my old brick elementary school. An orchestral arrangement of tweets seems to play mockingbird from all directions. And bright orange streaks of light kiss the tops of rogue bushes and twisted tree trunks. Tiny buds of future daffodils sneak out of the rich dirt, ready to reach for the sky and please the eye.
I’ve not been in my hometown in early spring since I left there as a teen about to start my life elsewhere. Though I tend to make a brief appearance every couple of years, this weekend’s visit is a rarity. This homecoming is a grand sendoff for the man whose last name I bear, providing a chance to reconnect, possibly one last time, with cousins and family acquaintances who share our grief.
The silver lining in this dark cloud is making renewed acquaintances, hearing stories we’ve never heard, and seeing people we’ve not seen since “you were this high.”
While making arrangements, one of my dad’s lifelong buddies pointed out that we have been frozen in time. His son, now 42 with kids, is stuck in my mind as the 17-year-old I last saw. To him, I’m still 30, about the last time he saw me. We both experienced an unexpected jolt. How can this be?
Though the price paid for this experience was high, there is pure joy and a sense of security when reconnecting with the past.
Why, we ask, have we not spent more time together over the years, discovering that we like one another and had more in common than we knew? Yet we know somewhere deep down inside that we may never again have this connection unless we are deliberate about it.
Death has a price, but so does life. There is a price for everything, and there is irony in the price. It’s as though I feel guilty having so much joy in seeing these people who have been frozen in time. Seeing faces I’ve not seen since high school, once shiny, hopeful teens and now weathered and tired senior citizens. Another jolt, for a brief moment, but a deep pleasure.
It’s Not Possible
Thomas Wolfe said, “You can’t go home again,” and it holds true. We’re here today, gone tomorrow, and all the joy held here is fleeting as we return to our hectic lives, no longer intertwining like the yarn of a comfortable old sweater. Not only is there sadness at the burial, sorrow is also creeping in like an old, gnarly vine as we all figure out that this may be the last time we connect.
Why don’t we spend more time together? Why don’t we do anything? What stands in the way becomes the way. The only alternative to taking things deeper is to identify the obstacle, then chip away or solve it so you reach the desired outcome. Ultimately it boils down to whether we’re willing to pay the price. Is the reward worth the effort? In some cases, yes. In others, well, probably not.
I’d not wish this past few weeks on anyone, but the reward has been sweet just the same. The process of everything we’ve gone through as a family has been a gift, in spite of the price.
A Flood of Gratitude
Though I can dig deeply for things I wish I’d said or done, I feel grateful that I had a chance and took it. And my sensitive, tear-filled eyes, which have more tears to come, have also helped me see the sweet gifts of the process. Now, at least for these raw moments, and hopefully longer, I look at those I love, those I’ve not seen, and appreciate that I can smile and see a smile in return. Appreciation fills my broken heart, and it’s my hope that I can keep the appreciation at a higher level each and every day, never once taking anyone for granted.
Look around you. Look at those you love and ask, if they became dust tomorrow, would you have said what needs to be said, encouraged what needs encouragement, and made it clear, in a deeply meaningful way, that they are appreciated? If not, go now and do this, before breath escapes for the last time.
And reconnect with those you have not seen, and maybe have forgotten, and deeply enjoy those conversations and expressions. The world in which we live at the moment has been filled with scores of unpleasant and unexpected surprises, and that may continue into the future. Don’t look back in regret with good intentions but lacking actions. Reach out, embrace, and feel the joy.
Simply profound Eric. Blessings to you and your family and thank you for sharing.
Hi Eric, So sorry for the loss of your father. No matter our age, we miss our Daddy when he departs. May the Lord comfort your family through the grief, and bring smiles at the memories! Beautiful thoughts about the preciousness of relationships in this life, that are so fleeting. I so appreciate all your “Sunday Coffee “ thoughts about life and the arts. God bless the work of your hands as you continue to seek Him and follow His lead. God made us creative…in His image!! Let’s keep on creating to bless the world! With Warm regards, Naomi K.
Thanks for that one I’ll heed your advice
Strong, encouraging words Eric. We all need to hear this. Thank you and Bless You for the kind deeds you have done for we artist. Compassion to you on the loss of your Dad. You have handeled it so well.
What a beautiful statement! Thanks.
Nice piece, Eric. So true.
“Seeing faces I’ve not seen since high school, once shiny, hopeful teens and now weathered and tired senior citizens” HA! Since I am one of those faces from the past, I would like to think of myself of somewhere in-between shiny and weathered 🙂 Wouldn’t we all?
Although a sad visit, I am glad you were also able to enjoy reuniting with old friends and family.
Like yourself, we left many years ago (1981) for the sunny skies and opportunity in Austin, and now live in the nearby Hill Country, where I am very active in our local art community. Would love to see you again sometime.
Beautifully said…so sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing your newly rediscovered insight on relationships so relevant to all.
You are such a wonderful writer among your many other talents these post when I have time to read them really all for a heartfelt inside and to our humanity thank you Eric so much
Thank you for your beautiful way of sharing your recent loss. May God bless you and your family as you go through this sad time.
I live in Manitoba , Canada where we are experiencing the third wave of COVID -19 and we are in lockdown until the end of May. Thankfully, spring is here and we can go outside and enjoy nature in its many uplifting ways.
Today, my spirits have been uplifted by your Sunday Coffee comments.
Thank you, from Bonnie H.
Every word hits home. A feeling experienced more than once. Thank you, Eric. I send my sincere condolences to you and your family. May God give you comfort and peace. Marikyn
Dear Eric, My heart goes out to you for the loss of your beloved father. The beautiful memories will always remain even though the emptiness will be hard to cope with at times. As we get older, and we too experience the sadness of the loss of loved ones, it does make us think of life differently.
All you’ve said about appreciating the loved ones in our lives and being grateful for all we have is the only way to live a fulfilled and happy life. As artists being able to express ourselves creatively is a most wonderful way to help not only ourselves but others too. Keep living your life with love.
Well said. Sorry for your loss. But how pleasant it is to find good in the experience.
Dear Eric, Thanks so much for your wonderful Sunday Coffee Email. I read it every week and look forward to Sunday Morning Coffee with you. This year has been a roller coaster year for you with the loss of both of your parents, and thank God, your son survived his heart attack. I have walked in your shoes before. My daughter passed away at age 22 of a heart attack and a similar heart malfunction to your son. That is the greatest loss any parent can experience. We have to learn to not take things for granted, smell the roses, cherish all of our relationships, and take time to self pamper ourselves through painting. Following my daughter’s passing, it took a while to get my heart into painting. I did find that doing the Plein Air Painting really helped. I took a little break from the teaching initially, because it is so important not to burn out the candle at both ends. The painting brings peace and joy and that helps so much in the healing and with the memories. Keeping you and your family in my thoughts and prayers. Looking forward to painting again at the PACE convention in Denver.
That was a beautiful tribute, Eric. Your words always have a positive and encouraging element even in times of sadness, no matter how you feel deep down. My sympathies herein.
Sympathies Eric. I admire your wonderful Sunday epitath, words so beautifully spoken. Sorry for your loss.
Beautifly written and a gift to those who read it. Sorry for your loss, it is a part of life that is so very painful. Blessings to you and your family.
Thank you for sharing your heart with us. It’s hard to say goodbye to parents or family. I remember that with my mother and father and now, at 80 years old, it’s my turn. But life is good, art is still part of me and I have loved all the moments God has allowed me to learn and enjoy it. I look forward to your newsletters. God bless you.
Eric, it sounds like a recent “loss”…your words are so tender, really nothing to add, tho each word was felt deeply. I have a beautiful Native Prayer, I would like to share with each of you…gentle, yet strong…to carry us thru what appears as “good byes”! The difficult on our part: we can no longer HUG that person we so dearly loved!! God Bless!
Native American Prayer
Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there, I do not sleep:
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints in the snow,
I am the sunlight on ripening grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning hush,
I am the swift uprising rush
of silent birds in flight;
And I am the bright stars
that shine at night;
So do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there, I did not die!
Thank you again for the beautiful words and sharing emotions. I love you, all the artists love you, and yes, even the whole world loves you.
Thanks Eric. My humble sympathies and understanding go with you. If you don’t mind I would like to borrow this quote for a future newsletter:
“Look around you. Look at those you love and ask, if they became dust tomorrow, would you have said what needs to be said, encouraged what needs encouragement, and made it clear, in a deeply meaningful way, that they are appreciated? If not, go now and do this, before breath escapes for the last time.” by Eric Rhoads
Thanks for sharing this moment and making it special. I Know I should be more encouraging and help others as I see them even if I don’t know them I have started to do that . Living in Lancaster County PA, people here are very friendly and smile as you come into their shop or office. it is a very welcoming , trusting community. I pray for comfort for you and your family with the loss of your dad.
Beautiful thoughts that touched my heart. You give a nudge to do better and make a difference in our lives and the lives of those we love. Thank you for all you do for us and the world as a whole.
A beautiful and thought provoking eulogy to a much loved father, thoughts with you Eric and your family at this time .
Thank you Eric for your deep and meaningful insights. Living in another time zone it is Monday morning when I get to read your emails – what a great way to start the week looking back on things I should of done or said then moving forward to doing things better.
This was a beautiful piece. So true…
Beautiful! Thank you for the nudge to create some action!
Thank you for sharing. I understand what you are saying. I pray for God’s peace and comfort for you and your family.
WOW, what a letter. Makes everyone that reads it think about their life and going back in time. Thank you so much for every letter you write.
So true. Eric, and more so every day as we age. I am so sorry for the loss of your father, but it is a celebration at the same time, knowing he is with his Father.
I appreciate your poetic words, and look forward to Sunday Morning Coffee every Sunday. Thank you. God bless you and your family today and every day.
I enjoyed reading this article very much Eric. It is an all too common experience. Thinking we haven’t got time to visit or pick up the phone and make a call is sometimes such a big excuse for I don’t feel like it. After reading today’s piece I am definitely going to call an old friend that I haven’t seen in months. Thank you for that Eric.
I enjoy receiving and reading your Sunday Coffee messages. I find them very thoughtful and well spoken. Thank you for sharing them with the world.
Wonderful worthy words…
So well written. I too have felt the sting of loss and the welcome love of those we have not seen in many years. Life is filled with many choicess. I am so very glad to have found you and all you share with others. I pray that you find the time to rest and heal from all you face today and tomorrow. God Bless.
God bless you, your family and your friends during this difficult journey. A friend once said to me that “These are chapters in our lives. That was then and this is now”. Oh, to keep it simple, now that is, indeed, the hard part. May you and yours enjoy the scenery on life’s detours.
So sorry for the loss of your father. I have been recently diagnosed with ALS which is progressing fast. This past weekend we had a huge family picnic and connected with family I haven’t seen in years. I feel fortunate to have had this time & reminded my family that getting together now is a gift for sure. I plan on making the best of everyday I have left. Quality Time is the best gift that you could ever give someone.
My heart goes out to you, may God bring both strength and comfort in your sorrow. It’s Mother’s Day, and your words are felt , I hoped my only child who is 53 and survived a horrible accident years ago, told me he is busy doing his laundry today , what is my address so he can send me a card. He lives 10 miles away.
I’m truly sorry for your loss. Losing a parent is so incredibly hard. Your words are so beautiful and truthful. Hold on to those memories, for they can be your happy place. They certainly are mine..
God Bless you and your family.
Eric I love the way you write! I’m so sorry for your loss and your broken heart.
So sorry for your loss of your father. May the memories of him and the good times together comfort you.
You never lose a loved one as he will always remain in your heart as long as you live. But losng a parent
seems like a loss of your childhood. You can no longer go home. You are reminded of your own mortality.
Your comments are so true.. It’s hard to find time to deal with work and daily life and to stay
connected with relatives, friends, and all the acquaintances. You have to make choices to prioritize
your time but sometimes the guilt sneaks in and the answer for many people is the perennial Christmas
letter orphone call. That is when you find out the friend or relative has been thru some illness or struggle
that you were not aware of. Like you said, time marches on along with changes, and you have to
evaluate who you value the most and try to stay connected so that you have no regrets when they
are gone. I rather see them when they are alive and aware then to attend their funeral.
Having reached out to friends this week that I have not seen in 39 years (since a 20 year high school reunion) your words really touched a place in my heart. Through FaceTime we were able to see each other and enjoy our aged faces. But the smiles were still the same as they were when we were in high school. Technology has made it so easy to reconnect. There should be no excuses. Thanks for all your wonderful Sunday Coffees Eric. Always a good read and food for thought.
Beautifully said, beautiful written. There is in a sense, a ‘timelessness’ in time, a sense that the core things, the meaningful realities of who we and others are, never changes. We can find our comfort and purpose in those precious moments.
Many thanks for deep spiritual joy.My congratulations on Mother’s day.
Thank you, Eric, for your poignant and authentic voice, and for taking the time to share so eloquently your feelings. Grief is a profound, unique, and yet universal event. I recall losing my parents as if it were yesterday, despite the many years that have passed. The pain of their loss is mixed with the pleasure of happy childhood memories, and a deep appreciation for the kind, decent people I was so fortunate to have had as parents. I’m planning a trip back to my hometown in Oberlin this fall to attend my 51st HS reunion, and to see a few cousins that still live locally. It’s a trip into the past, while at the same time, a visit with near-strangers, as you noted, recalling young faces that have somehow morphed into aging seniors. Blessings to you and your family, and thank you for taking the time to so deeply share at such a difficult time.
I look forward to having coffee with you on Sundays. You have great wisdom, and it’s nice you share it with us.
I’m sorry for the loss of your dad. I grew up with cousins, aunts and uncles around every weekend. Now we only get together for funerals.
I appreciate all you do for the art community!
I remember experiencing the same emotions when my mother passed away. There was a great comfort in having those around me who also would miss her and cherish her memory. The words of the gospel hymn come to mind: When we all get to heaven what a day of rejoicing that will be, when we all see Jesus we will sing and shout the victory!
I so needed this right now as I face going to a memorial service for a friends husband next weekend. We had a connection a long time ago and it’s too much to go into, but I trust and know it will be right thing to go and reconnect.
Thank you Eric for these simple words. That give me heart joy to know that somewhere out there, someone does understand. The true meaning of love, we say it so easily but not always with feeling. And It gives me joy to know that I am not alone in my thought. Of what really matters and what others will remember when someone passes. Remember the good times and the laughter, praying that the lord will give you peace.
I’m so sorry for your loss. You have such a beautiful way to discribe things. You’ve given me a reason to keep painting and you are so loved because of it. Sincerely. Jan ROERING.
Thank you Eric for those most fitting words. Your observations are all so true. It IS important to ‘slow down and smell the roses’! But alas, as you said few of of are in the moment often enough to actually do it. Photo albums (remember those?!) have the same affect on me. Our lives are a series of choices and those we choose make us who we become. Later (if we’re fortunate) we have our memories to buoy us up. May your heart heal and your memories of all those who went before and along the way sustain you. Smile and be happy in your rememberings!