I’m not surprised that this summer is bringing back many memories of times when our three children were younger. This is the first one since their mom, my wife, Monica, died last winter.
What surprises me, but shouldn’t, was how wise she was about making family memories. She was the one who realized how precious and fleeting these moments become, and how important it is to spend time together and take advantage of each summer.
And so there are photos, digital videos, videotapes and even a few 8 mm movie reels of almost 40 summers of family life. They stretch back to the year of our engagement (1973) to the year we knew her cancer had returned (2012) and she had less than a year to live.
We have memories of 1973 and a camping trip with her two younger sisters and my two younger sisters as our "chaperones." We have memories of last summer, of a weekend in a rented house on the Washington state coast with two sons, a daughter and her husband, their two children, and a beagle.
The first summer there were sleeping bags, tarps and utensils for cooking over a campfire. The last included an oxygen machine, a wheelchair and a variety of medicines. Both were brimming with laughter and love, and so were many summers in between.
What about this summer? The advice I offer you is the same I hope to follow.
* Make a plan. Those events, from picnics to vacations to family reunions, don’t just happen. Without some planning, and following through on that planning, it’s suddenly September.
* Expect some opposition. A body at rest tends to stay at rest and it seems that sometimes nobody wants to get moving. Unless your children are preschoolers, it usually takes a little selling (and pushing) to get family members on board.
* Realize it takes some work. You’re tired, too, but someone has to get the ball rolling and keep it moving. That’s true whether it’s only a day trip, a Sunday drive or an evening watching a game at the local ballpark.
* Be open to the adventure of it. In "family speak," that means something is bound to fall apart, go wrong or get messed up. But, looking back, that may end up being the highlight of the event and make the best story in years to come. It might even become legendary.
* "Take a picture in your head." That was Monica’s advice. Yes, use the camera (or cell phone) for photos and videos but stop, pay attention and make a point of remembering what you see and what’s happening.
Thank God for this summer, for this opportunity to spend time with loved ones, here and now.
Dodds and his late wife, Monica, were the founders of the Friends of St. John the Caregiver (www.FSJC.org).