Memorial Day is fast approaching and with it the unofficial beginning of summer – school is out, the pool is open, barbecues, graduation parties, and other light-hearted leisure activities abound. There is much to celebrate on Memorial Day weekend for most folks, so we sometimes forget the purpose of the holiday.
The Memorial Day holiday was created to commemorate U.S. men and women who have died while in military service and was designated as the last Monday of the month of May. Originally, the day was marked to honor Union soldiers of the American Civil War. The holiday was expanded after World War I to include American casualties of any military conflict.
Many of us have friends, family members, loved ones who have given their lives in service to this country. Memorial Day is a time to remember, honor, and miss them.
Memorial Day – and the month of May – has an additional significance for me personally. The month is filled with difficult reminders and an extremely painful anniversary – the death of my only child.
Mother’s Day came and went without the traditional phone call and gift. The year before her death, I received flowers at work – a beautiful arrangement by a local florist – while my daughter conquered finals, ending her sophomore year at college. The following weekend I picked her up at the airport for her summer break at home. Four days later, on her way to the Palo Verde Nuclear Power Plant to begin her summer internship, she was killed.
It is a difficult month indeed. Tears come more easily; my temper is shorter; days seem harder to get through – all symptoms of my ongoing journey through grief.
As I, and so many others in this community, chart our own courses through grief’s unique territory, daily coping can be a challenge. I have had to decline invitations to parties – particularly graduation parties – that otherwise I would be delighted to attend. I carry too much sorrow to burden an otherwise joyful occasion with my presence.
As I consider my own path through this pain, I realize there are so many others who have lost dear ones in recent times. We the grieving have unseen wounds. Most acquaintances who see us consider us “healed” and “fine” as we go through our days. But we are not, and only we – the grieving – know exactly how damaged we are.
I have used the analogy – not an original one, I’m sure – of feeling like an amputee. Something huge and vitally important to my life has been removed. The difference between an amputee and me is that no one can see by looking at me what is missing. But the absence is every bit as noticeable to me as if I’d lost my legs. Of course I will learn to cope and continue to live, but I will never be the same and I will never stop missing the part of me that is gone.
Grief leaves a permanent mark on our hearts, our lives, and our characters. Although time passes, be it a year, five or 25, the pain of the loss never quite leaves us.
Memorial Day is a time for remembering. Time should be set aside to recognize and honor those who have served this country and given their lives in military conflicts. For some of us, it can also be a time to remember those who, while not in the military, were contributing members of our society, loved and cherished family members, parts of our lives – and hearts – that are now missing.
So amid the summer fun, take a moment to remember the purpose of Memorial Day – honoring those who have died serving this nation. And perhaps take another moment to think of all loved ones who have been lost – and are so sorely missed.