Some of the people who speak to my mother at this time of year are very confused about what Memorial Day is.

Memorial Day was put into place after the Civil War.  The purpose of this holiday is to recognize those who died while in the service.

My father was a responsible, industrious man, a wonderful husband and a loving father.  He was a leading figure in the church, a favored neighbor, a respected friend and a good employee. 

He was a lot of things, but he was never a serviceman.

Why, then, has my mother heard comments like:

“I didn’t see any flowers put out for Dock.” (a year or so ago)

“Are you going to make it out to the cemetery this year to put something on Dan’s grave?” (this year)

Unintended (and perhasp at least one intended) implications involved in these statements may include the following:  

1)      How can you ‘forget’ him so soon?  Why don’t you honor his memory?

2)      Memorial Day isn’t just for service people, because that would be discriminating.  We must do what we’ve done to every holiday and remove the initial meaning intended and make it all revolve around our own issues/desires/needs. 

3)      We simply don’t KNOW the meaning of Memorial Day.  This is a possibility, since judging by the decorations in the local cemetery, everyone from those that died at birth to those who were women at a time when women didn’t serve are all decorated.

It should not surprise me that in our narrow focused, self-absorbed days (yes, I live in these days too and confess that I fit that description more often than not) that we unconsciously elevate our own losses to the status of others’ and instead of wanting to focus on those losses that others have sustained and sacrifices others have made, we want to make the holiday about our own losses, our own sacrifices.  After all, it isn’t FAIR {shudder} that only one type of sacrifice/loss can be honored in this way.  Isn’t MINE {see the focus?} just as big of a deal?

Nor does it really surprise me that this practice of honoring our own non-service-member losses became a cultural norm and has been for as long as I can remember.

What does surprise… actually, that might be the wrong word… what does confound me is the implication that because my mother does not go put flowers at the place of my father’s burial on a day that isn’t even designed for honoring him in the first place somehow means to some people that she is DIShonoring him or otherwise doing his memory a disservice.

It’s as if we think decorating the grave = remembering and remembering = honoring.  Remembering and honoring are sometimes the same thing.  Sometimes they are at odds with one another.

You can remember a loss and in doing so honor the source of that loss by donating to the person’s favorite cause, making a choice that you know that person would approve of (assuming the person in question was a WISE person.. =) ), sharing a memory of that person with someone else… there are a THOUSAND ways to remember and honor at the same time.

There are ways to remember and dishonor.  By making poor choices in the midst of your grief.  By living a life that would bother the person you lost (assuming, again, that the person was wise… or by repeating their same mistakes if they weren’t).  By focusing on your pain and suffering to the exclusion of what should be getting done and what COULD be truly honoring that memory.  These are ways to remember, but not to honor, that loss.

And then there are ways to honor WITHOUT remembering, believe it or not.   I don’t think of my father every day.  There is an individual in my class who lost her mother at about the same time and I’m sure that she doesn’t think of her mom every second of every day either.  I AM sure that she honors the memory of her mother each day, however.  By raising that woman’s grandchildren well.  By keeping the cheerful outlook/countenance her mother probably helped her obtain in the first place.  By making life choices that she knows her mother would approve of and continuing to live out those choices even when her mother isn’t at the forefront of her mind.  By simply living out the legacy of the woman that imparted much of herself to her daughter, she is honoring her mother.  She may also decorate her mother’s grave, I don’t know.  I simply know that she honors her mother either way.

I hope that I too am living out my father’s legacy, but I do not visit his gravesite today and not simply because I feel that would take away from the meaning of this holiday.  The truth is, I haven’t been to his gravesite but once that I can remember since his burial service, and that one time was because I felt it was expected of me.  I probably will not go again unless my children decide they wish to see it someday.   Not because I do not wish to honor my father.  Not because I wish to forget him.   I wish for neither.  But I do not see how putting plastic flowers –or real ones- on the place where we disposed of his body (let’s just speak plainly here, okay? He wasn’t there when we buried him.  He isn’t there now.  WHAT, then, am I visiting?) is a necessary part of me remembering and honoring him.  

You know what? There are many days, months, there have even been whole seasons when I don’t grieve for him.  I remember him.  I hope my life honors him.  But I do not grieve any longer. 

And you know what else? If your grief or your remembering or your honoring or all three take the form of decorating the grave of a loved one, that’s awesome.  Do it proudly.  But above and beyond that, examine your life and see if it resembles a life that instead of merely remembering is also honoring that person’s memory.

And don’t think you have to do your decorating on a holiday set in place for servicemen.  Instead, maybe you could spend that day finding the grave of a few service members that you were close to and honoring them.

Just a thought.  No need to be offended. =)