Depending on where you are in life, three years can feel like an entirely different amount of time. As a toddler, three years is forever. It is literally a lifetime, maybe even longer. But as someone who has been walking around this planet for more than forty years, 3 years is just a blip on the radar screen. It is one small time slice where nothing terribly significant could happen, or where an incredible amount of significant changes can happen in what feels like the blink of an eye. Three years goes fast…and in that time so much can happen.

Three years ago this July, Kailea and I traveled to Michigan to visit my family. As was par for the course in those days, we split our time between two areas of the state. We spent a couple of days with my Mom in Okemos, the place I still call home more than twenty years after moving away for good. The rest of our time was spent in Grand Rapids visiting my father, who, at the time, was still fighting the good fight against cancer. Three years ago, he was winning.

During the first leg of our trip, Kailea, my sister, my mom and I went to Binder Park Zoo in Kalamazoo. The highlight of our trip was feeding the giraffes. If you’ve never fed a giraffe before, or have never seen one at eye-level, this is one to add to your bucket list. Giraffes are incredibly gentle creatures, something that’s hard to envision when you’re standing below them looking up. But when you look them in the eye, you can see them for the sweet and gentle creatures these giants really are. Giraffes love romaine lettuce, and will eat it right out of your hands using their gray, twisty tongues. It’s an unbelievable thrill and one I knew I had to experience again.

Feeding giraffes: bucket list item.

On the second leg of our trip, we celebrated my Dad’s 75th birthday. The day started out rainy, but the clouds cleared early enough for us to spend the afternoon on Grand Haven beach enjoying sun, sand and water. The day ended with a trip to Baskin Robbins for ice cream.

As a child my family and I went to Baskin Robbins at least once a week. These weekly trips fed my mom’s addiction for Jamoca Almond Fudge ice cream, a coffee flavored ice cream loaded with almonds and swirling ribbons of fudge. She always got a double dip on a sugar cone and savored every single lick and each and every bite. On my Dad’s 75th birthday he got chocolate chip mint on a sugar cone. Probably, in large part, because green was his favorite color and this color preference guided nearly every purchase decision he ever made.

The day at the beach was always the highlight of our trips to Dad’s side of the state, even on spring-time trips when we had to bundle up in sweatshirts and blue jeans to keep warm. This visit to Dad’s side of the state was no different: the day at the beach was the highlight. Only I didn’t know at the time, it would be my last day at the beach with my Dad.

Life goes fast. Make time for the people you love.

The following year I made 5 trips to Michigan, the most I had ever made in a single year since moving away. During those trips I did something I never had done before. I spent considerably more of my time on my Dad’s side of the state. I knew his time was growing shorter; I just didn’t know how short our time together really was.

In April of that year, we spent Easter with my Dad and my step-mom. We went to Meijer Gardens and spent a lovely spring day, slowly strolling through the gardens. We took in the beauty around us — ducks on the pond, springtime flowers in bloom, and budding trees, all encapsulated in an unusually-warm Michigan spring day. The beauty of nature paled in comparison to the simple pleasure of being with my father—hearing his stories, enjoying his laughter, holding his hand, and walking slowly while being fully present in the moment.

The highlight of that trip was watching my niece play Lacrosse at a nearby college. Sitting on the bleachers in the sunshine with FloRida’s “Good Feeling” playing on the loud speakers surrounded by the people I love most—it is a moment I’ll never forget. It was my last visit to Michigan where my Dad felt good. He was still my Dad, the fun-loving, laughing, happy guy I will always remember…and miss.

On my fourth trip to Michigan that year, I watched my father take his last breath. He was surrounded by his family and enveloped in love. But it happened so fast.

It happened so fast.

In reality, it took 76 years and 21 days to get to that point. So perhaps, it didn’t go fast. Perhaps I just started paying attention a little late in the game.

I had similar thoughts last week, as I journeyed back to Michigan, this time to move my Mom into an Assisted Living facility. In the past three years, her Alzheimer’s has progressed to the point where it is no longer safe for her to live alone.

It happened so fast.

When I arrived, Mom and I did one of her favorite things. We went for a walk. We walked slowly, and as before with my father, I cherished the moments, without worrying about where we were going or how slowly we were getting there. Mom and I talked about how I love to run. She told me that she has another daughter who loves to run, too. I told her I was that daughter and held her hand a little tighter.

Life goes fast. Take time for loved-ones.

Throughout the week we packed up her life. We packed up essentials for the future like her bed, clothing, toothbrush and wine. We boxed her past — scrapbooks, photographs, mementos from vacations, old books and teddy bears. The moving truck came, and within hours we had her unpacked and ready to live in her new place. In the next few days, my brother, sister and I went through the rest of her things setting aside items for mom’s new place, mementos for each of us, as well as items to donate and sell.

Life goes fast. Make time for the things you love to do.

We also built in time for fun, like another trip to the zoo to feed giraffes, dinner out and time spent talking about things like her favorite ice cream. She said she wasn’t a fan of plain vanilla, so I asked her if she thought coffee flavored ice cream with almonds and fudge swirls sounded good. “Not really. I might eat some if someone gave it to me, but I certainly wouldn’t pay money for it,” mom replied. She doesn’t remember her favorite ice cream anymore.

It happened so fast.

I returned home exhausted, struck by this thought: I no longer have a home to return to in Michigan. That feels so strange. How did that happen so fast? What’s more, I know it’s only a matter of time when I return to Michigan and my mom won’t remember me. Like her favorite ice cream, I know she will always love me, whether she remembers or not.

If you haven’t yet, I invite you to start paying attention. Notice and cherish those priceless moments with loved ones. You really never can know the one time that will ultimately be the last—the last trip to the beach, the last trip to the ice cream shop, the last leisurely walk. Slow down and drink it all in.

I also invite you to make a bucket list, whether feeding giraffes makes your list or not. Make it a priority to do things that excite you and give your life meaning. Buy everything in your favorite color, and eat your best-loved ice cream as often as you can. Make it a point to create memorable moments. Slow down. Take notice. Do the things that make your heart sing.

This thing called life is an amazing journey. There are ups and downs, happy moments and moments filled with pain. Pay attention to all of it…because it truly does happen fast.

Aby

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Aby Garvey is a creative organizing expert and simplify 101’s founder. She has created 14 online organizing classes, which she has been teaching since 2007, helping thousands of people around the world get organized. Aby loves to help people create positive change in their lives through her online classes and organizing eBooks.

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