Remembering Memorial Day: Remembrance & Honor

MAY 25, 2020

As a small child, I remember sitting on my paternal grandfather's lap, his purpled and hazed eagle tattoo on his arm, signifying his time deployed. I remember the mix of curiosity, mystery, and awe I had towards my grandfather. Neither of my grandfathers spoke much about their time in the service. I didn't understand what war was. What I did understand, though, was who my grandfathers were. Their character, dignity, genuine care for me, and my other family members. This was the first emblem of what a military person was.

That being said, I'll be honest. Due to COVID-19 and all the things going on with it, the onset of Summer, and just keeping up with my kids, I completely forgot about Memorial Day. I scheduled meetings (with other people who forgot it was Memorial Day). I didn't buy steaks or the usual accompanying bbq accouterments. Of course, the rain ruined the chances of a bbq steak anyway. I didn't send notes to those who served in military services. It was just a few days ago that I remembered it was a holiday. What folly!

Now, there may be some out there who say that we should not honor those who served because of one reason or another. That is a politically laden agenda that I don't intend on getting into today. My grandfathers, my father, other family members, friends, and acquaintances served in one branch of service or another. I never served in the military, I went to seminary instead. However, I have a deep respect for those who served, be it during active wartime or not. My forgetting of Memorial Day had little to do with my appreciation of those in the military services.

My forgetting of Memorial Day was due to my forgetting of today. I'm not talking about the specific day we are in or any loss of my sense of time or myself. I'm talking about being lost in the moment, looking too far into potential futures than the real current moment. The time spent focusing on the day was lost in insignificant details about the day then actually living today.

The first thought I had when remembering it was a holiday, was to cancel my meetings and plan for what the family will do during a rainy time with Daddy at home. Then I remembered we were quarantined and couldn't really have anyone over anyway. My father was out of town anyway. Then, I began to think about those who served, who aren't around. Eventually, I began to think deeper about the day.

Both my grandfathers passed decades ago. Family members, friends, and acquaintances are too far away to celebrate the day as well. Luckily, our immediate families never lost a loved one to war. Can you imagine the families who did? I have a newfound respect for this loss, now that I am a parent. I cannot fathom and do not even want to consider the loss of one of my children in war (luckily, they're too young to worry about that). The loss of a loved one in war must be a mix of emotions that are likely unparalleled in many other situations in life.

The normal grief of the loss of a loved one is hard enough to bear. Denial or shock, bargaining, or "the shoulda's," anger, and depressiveness must be more complicated for those families of loved ones lost in service.

Can you imagine the shock of receiving that phone call or knock at the door?

Can you imagine the regrets and "Shoulda's" that echo past the denial: "I should have said I love you more..." "I should've spent more time with them..."

Can you imagine the anger, at the other side, at god, at those minimizing or villainizing the service of the protection the loved one who gave their life to provide?

Can you imagine the depths of despair present to the remaining family members? Anytime a reminder of military or war stings to the core.

Can you imagine those in the military who survived IED's, sieges, crashes, or battles nearly lost? Survivors' guilt plays havoc on the psyche of those struggling with PTSD.

While I may have provided clinical supports for individuals described above... I. Have. NO. IDEA. No clue. No concept of the loss, the meaning, the struggle, mixed with pride, honor, and respect for loved ones lost.

As a mental health clinician, I understand the clinical impacts, neurological and emotional processes, and interpersonal struggles that people face, with all of the above. However, as a fellow human being, I cannot entirely sympathize.

A quote that I am fond of is,

That which is most personal is most universal.

- Henri Nouwen

I cannot know what it is like to lose someone in a war. I do know what it is like to lose a loved one. My paternal grandfather was like a best friend to me, growing up. We didn't lose him to war, but we did eventually lose him. His character, respect, and life lessons he passed to me are still a guiding light in my life.

For those who served, even if not deployed, there is a threat of loss. This is bravery and courage to be emulated. This threat is not just for the military personnel, but the families as well. This threat is not just for the family of the military personnel, but for us all as well. We all lose in war, even if we "win."

How many things in our lives are we fearful of losing? How many things in our lives are we grateful for? How many things in our lives do we need to reevaluate and be thankful for?

The cost of war is not just national allegiance, the threat of tyranny, oppression of freedoms, or loss of democracy. The cost of war is the loss of loved ones. The reason people go to war is to protect loved ones and to ensure for them a future free of these costs. The cost of war, for all sides, is that of loss. "That which is most personal is most universal."

To “REMEMBER” means to put members of something back together. Re- means again. Member- someone or something that belongs to a group of other members.

To remember, is to put things in a group again. If you lose someone, they can only be remembered in our memories.

Their honor, their strength, their sacrifice, the price they paid - that we all pay- is remembered Today.

To those who served, who serve, and who will serve, thank you.

To those who love and are close to the ones who serve, thank you.

To those family members of mine who served, thank you for your service.

More importantly, thank you for your example and the moral fiber underpinning and upholding our family tree. Thank you.