For some, Memorial Day marks the beginning of summer. Picnics, barbecues and various celebrations take place. It’s usually a good thing. Although I’m always up for a party, I think this day somehow requires a little more than hot dogs and cold beer to make it significant.
I have gotten into the habit of taking the morning on the last Monday in May and remembering those who have lost their lives, as well as those who have made sacrifices, in service to our country. For me, it’s a time to be grateful to those who have given the ultimate gift so that the rest of us can live in peace.
Memorial Day used to be called Decoration Day, and many would put red poppies on the graves of the soldiers who bravely fought for our freedom. I wonder if anyone still does this. Personally, I plan to place a bouquet of white roses by the American flag that flies over the war memorial near my home.
I lost some friends in Vietnam, and I can still see their young faces. Far too young to have experienced life. I like to believe that if any of them were here today, they would celebrate being alive and not give a hoot about the Great Recession or how life isn’t as good as it used to be. Hey, it’s life, and any day is a good one when you consider the alternative.
I think that we should each take a moment, even if it’s during the singing of “The Star Spangled Banner” at a game, and give some thought to those who paved our way. That’s all, just some thought.
Collectively those thoughts might make a difference in some way. Our reflections can also remind us that war, at best, is a bad thing and that hopefully the wars we are involved in will be over soon.
It’s true that we cannot move on from a loss until we grieve about it. If you have lost a loved one in Iraq or Afghanistan, you may still be in mourning. If someone you care for is serving overseas, you might celebrate Memorial Day differently. Perhaps you’ll take this day to speak to one another, or video chat, if possible.
The time we take to think and feel, to let go of our pain, is actually healing. I know it’s not the most attractive thing to look at, and I can’t see people putting on their schedule for 5/30, “Feel your grief.” But that doesn’t mean we should avoid it. Besides, it’s a national holiday and almost impossible to ignore.
You may choose to go to a veterans cemetery and put flags by headstones, you may participate in a ceremony — even get to see a flyove. But it is what’s in your own heart that really matters.
There are no rules in how to celebrate the day; it’s up to you. I believe the idea is to just take a moment to think about those who have sacrificed and take in some gratitude.
Barton Goldsmith, Ph.D., is an award-winning therapist and humanitarian. He is also a columnist, the author of seven books, and a blogger for PsychologyToday.com with nearly 27 million readers. He practices in Santa Barbara and Los Angeles and is available for video sessions. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears Sundays and Tuesdays in the News-Press.