What to Say on Memorial Day

Memorial Day is not about taking advantage of retailers’ discount promotions or partying over the three-day weekend. Memorial Day means taking time to remember the departed who died while serving the United States of America.*

Flags in a Row (photo by Teresa TL Bruce, TealAshes.com)

The commemoration was first known as Decoration Day. Loved ones and townsfolk decorated fallen soldiers’ graves with flags or flowers or both. Families gathered at cemeteries to pay honor and respect to those who died (or went missing in action) while defending their homeland and its interests.

It was a day not of politics but of propriety, not of celebrating but of solemnity.

Is it too much to ask that we set aside one day a year — the last Monday in May — to unite in remembrance of those who set aside their lives to serve their country? Is it too much to ask that we honor and express our indebtedness to their families?

I hope not.

Did you know that 3:00 p.m. Memorial Day is officially designated as the National Moment of Remembrance? For sixty seconds, wherever they are,  Americans are asked to observe a moment of silent remembrance or listen to and contemplate the playing of “Taps.” Trains are supposed to blast their horns.

Does 3:00 p.m. seem an inconvenient time? After all, it’s smack dab in the middle of many folks’ trips to the beach or backyard barbecues. Stopping for a moment of solemnity would slam a damper onto the fun.

That’s the point.

Those whose lives ended in service to their country put aside their personal lives, their fun. We can resume our parties and picnics after sixty seconds, but they — and their families — will never return to life as before.

If you can’t spare a day to recognize more than two centuries’ worth of lost lives on behalf of the “land of the free and the home of the brave,” surely you can spare one minute to think about the families they left behind.

So, what should you say to those who’ve lost loved ones while serving our country, even if it has been many years?

  • I’m so sorry your [loved one] died.
  • I appreciate your [loved one]’s service to our country.
  • I’d love to know more about your [loved one] if there are stories you’d like to share.
  • I promise not to forget the service your [loved one] gave our country.

If your friends’ losses are recent — and by recent I mean within the last two to three years — you can and should do more. See How to Help after a Death for a checklist of specific tasks you can do to alleviate and comfort the bereaved.

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*I realize many of my readers live outside the United States. I hope you’ll be able to apply these thoughts to honoring the memories and families of those who gave their lives in service to your own homelands.

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Please note: The Memorial Day Foundation offers a list of seven ways to observe the memorial aspect of Memorial Day.

Veterans Day Thanks

Say THANK YOU to veterans--and their families.

Say THANK YOU to veterans–and their families.

What is the purpose of Veterans Day? “A celebration to honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.” *

One of the best ways to honor those who have served is to say “thank you” to them — and to their families — acknowledging awareness of their service and sacrifice on behalf of their nation.

I was raised in a patriotic home by parents whose reverence for and “allegiance to the flag of the United States” was founded in acknowledgement of all the souls who perished — from the Revolutionary War to the present — in paying the price for the freedoms that bless my life. (Most patriotic songs have brought tears to my eyes since I was old enough to understand their lyrics.)

As a widow, however, my appreciation for veterans has multiplied a hundred-fold. I have a better grasp of the fragility of the time we spend with (and away from) our loved ones. I’m grateful to those whose service cost them precious days away from home and whose service-related health issues continue exacting a price.

And now, because I know the pain of losing a spouse and have met many military widows (and a few military widowers), I view the sacrifices of the fallen in a more personal way than I did before.

THANK YOU, Veterans, for leaving home and hearth to serve your country. And thank you to the loved ones who wished you well as you did so.

*quoted from “History of Veterans Day,” U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (http://www.va.gov/opa/vetsday/vetdayhistory.asp)