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