It was an early summer night in 1967. The Stafford family was all together. They’d had dinner. They’d laughed. They’d caught up on their day. And then the parents headed to bed while the kids kept the evening going.
It’s a scene out of millions of family vacations and reunions and Thanksgivings and Christmases. In his diary the next morning, William Stafford—the poet—would recount how wonderful it had been. “Last night the kids in our living room stayed up to talk after Dorothy and I came out to bed,” he said, “and they were talking about us, or about to do so—benevolently. I happened to think: this may be the only, and is probably the best, memorial service I will ever get.”
We’ve talked before about how happiness is a crowded table—that at the end of your life, success as a parent will be a family that comes together, that spends time together, that wants to be around you. But Stafford’s realization is a powerful one. Those evenings at the crowded table? That’s the funeral you get to attend. The family dinners, the long conversations, these are the eulogies you get to hear. William Stafford didn’t get to read the book his son Kim wrote about him, but he did hear the cheerful din of his children talking about him in the other room.
Cherish this while you can. Cultivate it while it’s still possible. It’s what makes life worth living.