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Holly Richardson: Knowing what really matters in the end

Published July 14, 2017 5:48 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Last week, I traveled with 19 of my closest family members — kids and grandkids — back to Missouri for an extended family reunion. My grandmother is the matriarch of the bunch at 95 years old and our week-old grand baby was the youngest, spanning five generations.

Caravaning our way across the country to the Lake of the Ozarks, we had plenty of time to talk with each other and deepen family ties. I love these people.

On our way, we stopped in Omaha, Neb., to visit the LDS Winter Quarters museum and one of my daughters was most struck by the little cemetery there. Some 600 people were buried on that small plot of land, approximately half of them 3 years old and younger. That sparked a conversation about the faith and the sacrifice required to carry on in the face of great tragedy and how she has done that in her life as well.

When we finally arrived at our family reunion, it was loud and noisy and chaotic, as family reunions are but also full of love and connection. As I sat next to grandmother one evening and talked about being a grandmother myself, she patted my knee and said, "You're no spring chicken, are you?" I laughed and said, "No, I'm not. But if I live as long as you, I'm barely half-way done with my life."

My grandmother's goal is to live to be 100 and host the next reunion in five years. She'll probably do it, too. She's stubborn and feisty and determined. Some might say the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

The inevitability of time marching on got me thinking about life and about eulogies. Am I living my life in such a way that I will be happy with my eulogy when my time comes? And if I'm not, what do I need to do to change that?

"Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life," said Steve Jobs in a commencement speech after his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.

Linda Ellis's 1996 poem "The Dash" challenges us to think about how we live those years of our life represented by the dash on a headstone between birth and death. David Brooks asks us to think about "résumé virtues" and "eulogy virtues" while Clayton Christensen asks how we will measure our lives.

We probably all know we won't wish we had spent more time at the office when our lives come to a close, but sometimes, that closing seems so far away that we just get caught up in the busyness of everyday life and don't focus on what really matters. Sometimes I'm afraid my tombstone will say "She was so busy…"

One motivational tool often used to help us figure out if our actions are aligning with our values is to ask "What if you only had six months to live? What would you do?" I have friends for whom this is no imagined scenario — it's real life. At age 50, they are now filling out and completing a bucket list they thought they had decades to work on, while dealing with pain and grief and rapidly declining health. On Wednesday, my friend Wade Farraway, went home from work feeling ill and never woke up.

He was only 56.

The bottom line for me is this: We never really know how much time we have on this earth. Are we doing what we love with that time? Are we spending time with who we love? Are we focusing where we should? Are we making a difference? Or are we putting off for "some day?" Some day, we'll take that vacation. Some day I'll write down my stories for my grandkids. Some day I'll tell them I love them. Some day I'll use that china. Some day I'll write that thank you note.

I haven't written my own obituary yet but I do know what I hope people will say when I die: She was a woman of faith who lived fully, loved deeply and made a difference in the world.

Holly Richardson loves her big, crazy, chaotic family and is having a lot of fun watching them grow into caring, competent, service-oriented adults. She also hopes to live even longer than her grandmother but, no matter when the end comes, she hopes to have lived a life that mattered.






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