I always assumed Memorial Day was a day to reflect upon, remember, and respect the soldiers who never made it home.
And I always thought “celebrating” that day in the commercial sense that we do, as only America can, was trashy. Garish flyers advertising sales on grills and mattresses and cars because all inventory’s gotta go go GOOOO.
Then I’m countered with actual veterans who actually served who say things like “if I die just raise a glass to me and grill away!” Celebrate away, according to them.
Of course they’d say that. That kind of “don’t mourn me” attitude is exactly the characteristic that drew them to serve and risk it all in the first place. Putting others ahead of themselves, doing it for the love of country. And God bless them for it.
But I still can’t help feeling that treating Memorial Day as a day of *celebration* is not the right thing to do. Maybe it’s just me, getting offended on behalf of those with whom I can’t empathize. I didn’t serve, so how could I have an opinion?
But the more I think about it, Memorial Day should also be for those who live daily with the emptiness that comes with having lost a loved one who put the future state of their country ahead of themselves and the immediate concerns of their family.
It should be for the parents or spouses or children who watched as their son or daughter or husband or wife or mother or father or brother or sister left to follow their other calling. Hoping they’d return. Living with the daily anxiety of getting that call. Living with that pain when, for some, that call actually comes.
It should be for those who served and returned home while their brothers and sisters did not, living with that knowledge every day. Strong on the outside, struggling on the inside.
I’ve only wept a handful of times in the airport. Once was when I got the call my grandfather had passed away unexpectedly. All the others were as I watched soldiers and their loved ones meeting or departing.
Parents hugging their children one last time before watching them deploy after graduating basic training, going off as teenagers to do more than most adults ever will at the command of some politician.
The little girl holding the pillow with her daddy’s picture printed on it saying her daddy was in the army. The husband who embraced his very pregnant wife until the last call to board the plane (that one still gets me).
So while Memorial Day is to remember those who didn’t return, my heart will also be with those who live with the ghosts of those they never got to see again. Your loss is no less important, and your sacrifice deserves our gratitude and respect as well.