I think it’s safe to say, I’ve been neglecting my blog, since I haven’t had a post in more than a month.  I know, I know. I hate that too…when you like to read someone’s blog and then all of the sudden, poof—they just disappear.  Sorry to be that person, but I promise, I do have a good excuse, although it’s not one I’m going to go into detail about right now. Maybe someday.

I will say, though, that I’ve recently been reminded that in just a minute—or even a few seconds—everything can change. We spend so much time mapping out our lives and making plans, and every now and then we get slapped with the reality that we mere mortals are not solely in control of our universe.

When this happens, something else surfaces too—it’s like a wake up call screaming to us, telling us to appreciate every moment in time and the people we love.

My recent “almost” tragedy reminded me of a true tragedy three and a half years ago, when we got one of those phone calls that no one ever wants to receive. My father-in-law, Leroy, had suddenly passed away. After a round of golf and lunch with his wife of more than fifty years, his heart stopped working. Just like that.

He wasn’t sick. There were no signs, no time to say goodbye or react. No known heart disease. He died the way most of us would want to—without suffering and at home. He never spent much time in the hospital and not a night in a care facility, where so many older adults end their lives today. He enjoyed a long life, loved his family, played golf every day, and had a smile that lit up his eyes until the very end.

My husband has three brothers. Between the four of them and my in-laws, we are spread out between five different states. And for many years now, we’ve been coming together as a group every summer to enjoy time as a family.

When I first became part of this group, there were only three grandchildren, ages one, two and three. Today there are eleven grandchildren—the oldest is now nineteen, and the youngest is five. It seems like just yesterday those three older girls were playing dress up and taking bubble baths. Sometimes it makes me smile, other times it makes me want to cry, and I wonder what happened? It’s just another reminder that time marches on. And every year it seems to pass by more quickly.

Until he died, we celebrated Leroy’s birthday every summer together. I miss doing that now, and I know the rest of the family does too. He was the monarch of our family. The chief. The leader. The dad and the grandfather. But he was also perhaps the gentlest, and he had one of the kindest hearts I’ve ever met. His passing was another reminder of how time escapes us, and it made us focus on appreciating every moment. So, afterward we began congregating twice a year instead of just once. That’s the only positive I took away from the experience.

The only other condolence is that he lives on in us. I can see him in my husband and in my kids. When all of us are together it’s even more evident. It’s a smile or the twinkle of an eye in my husband or one of his brothers. It’s the way someone laughs or does something that he would do. They all bear a strong physical resemblance to him, and that makes them lucky. Most of all, it’s the people they are…kind, good-natured, and family-oriented. At his funeral the family entered the church last. It took a while for our large group to file into the front set of pews. I remember the pastor pointing to the family and saying, “Just look at what Leroy has created. His family is his legacy.” Amen to that.

Family means something different to everyone. Some people had a nurturing childhood, others not so much. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that no one, and no family, is ever perfect. If you can recognize the shortcomings in each other, and overlook them, you can begin to appreciate the good stuff.

One of my favorite things during our family weeks together is when I get to watch four brothers (who are now all middle-aged men) sit around the kitchen table late at night, talking and laughing about old memories. It’s only better when their mother is sitting among them.

Another favorite is the way the kids faces light up when we come together. Even at the proposition, months ahead, they’re like kids waiting for Santa to come on Christmas morning. It’s the highlight of their year, and I’m so thankful they grew up knowing and loving each other. My husband has been saying for years now, “You know, pretty soon these older kids aren’t going to want to come to these reunions anymore.” At this, I give him a look that’s half anger, half fear at the thought, and I always say, “I hope not!” To my joy, the oldest ones are still some of the first to ask about the plans for next time. When we part at the end of a week, they all leave solemn-faced, the little ones often with tears in their eyes. That’s the hard part—saying goodbye.

At the end of the week, I’m exhausted and ready for some quiet time.  But I’m still always looking forward to the next time.

I’ve been reminded before…I’ve been reminded again recently…and I’m reminding you now…none of us ever know if there’ll be a next time. We never know when we will say a final goodbye to someone we love. So remember to appreciate life, appreciate time, and appreciate each other, every minute.

I’m off and running for now…our house is filled with twenty Olsons at the moment. Time to go enjoy the magic.