Monday, May 27, 2013

Grief: Memorial Day

There was a time when Memorial Day was about picnics and family get togethers. Memorial Day was first enacted in memory of the soldiers who fought in the American Civil War.  Later it was expanded to commemorate the soldiers who fought in all wars. I have been on battlefields and cried.  I am grateful for those who gave and still give their lives that we might live.  I never forget they make my sunshine freedom day possible.

Without taking away the special status of those who fight in battle, for me every day is Memorial Day.  Every day is for remembering and honoring and cherishing.

When Artie died I had a plaque put on a bench in Central Park.  When Erin's best friend Jon died I had a plaque put on a bench in Central Park.  When I walk through the park I stop and read the plaques.  I think about the people they represent.  I know that Jon's family gathers at his bench.  I know that I am comforted by the plaque on Artie's bench.  I want people to remember.

I talk about Artie all the time.  People that have never met him feel that they know him.  He had things to share and teach and I don't want that to stop.  I used to say he was the most alive dead person I know.  It's not true.  I know too many people who laugh, love, cry, and joke with their dead.  Sometimes a memory can seem more real than the present.  Sometimes the present is infused with a memory.  That is love.

It doesn't mean that the picnics should stop.  It doesn't mean that families shouldn't get together.  It does mean that in the midst of the good food and the fun we should take time to remember, not only our own dead but those many others.  I have read that the dead are called the great majority.  There are a lot of people who have gone before us to show us the way.

When I was in England I passed monuments, plaques, and books that listed names.  The names are mostly of the men who died in WWI and WWII.  It is England, though.  There was a book at Windsor in St. George's Chapel that lists the names of gallant knights.  The tour guide talks but I stop and read the names.  I try to read them not with my mind but with my heart.  I stop in church graveyards and take pictures.  I am cheered by the stones that are chiseled, "Reunited."

I went to the car park (parking lot) where the bones of the English King Richard III who was killed at Bosworth Field in 1485 were recently found.  I was excited to be at this place I had heard about.  I went back later to acknowledge that this archaeological hole in the ground covered by a tent that you could not approach was in fact sacred ground.  A man's bones had lain here for over 600 years.  Was he of his times?  Was he good or evil?  No matter.  He was a King killed in battle and even this many centuries later his descendants are in High Court defending his right to be reburied in York where they think he would have wanted to be buried.  (He was discovered in Leicester and Leicester wants him buried there.)

There are too many graves.  There are too many ashes.  It is, of course. quite the natural process.  We live and then we die.  Our brains know that.  However, our eyes weep and our hearts break.

People keep telling me how happy I look.  I am happy.  I am happy about many things.  I am also happy that I am sad.  I am happy that I remember.  I am happy that Memorial Day has a depth of meaning for me it never had before.  My own sorrow gives me greater empathy for the sorrow of others.  My own sorrow gives my greater compassion for the families of those who send their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers to war - not knowing whether they will have the earthly reunion they hope for.

We who are left, how shall we look again
Happily on the sun or feel the rain
Without remembering how they who went
Ungrudgingly and spent
Their lives for us loved, too, the sun and rain?
 — Wilfred Wilson Gibson, Lament

Peace to each manly soul that sleepeth;
Rest to each faithful eye that weepeth…
 — Thomas Moore, How Oft Has the Banshee Cried

Are they dead that yet speak louder than we can speak, and a more universal language? Are they dead that yet act? Are they dead that yet move upon society and inspire the people with nobler motives and more heroic patriotism?— Henry Ward Beecher

May this Memorial Day have room for both tears and laughter.  May your dead speak to you with words of inspiration and encouragement so that you can find your own heroism no matter how small or how large your battle.  I promise my husband and every man and woman that for me remembrance is holy.  Healing, moving on do not mean I forget you.  

Memorial Day is a day of gratitude, sorrow, joy and hopefully...even peace.  xo 

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