Our kids believe we have today off from school and work due to what they’ve been calling “Memory Day” which is not entirely inaccurate. Memory is very close to memorial only without the heaviness of life loss. Memorial Day is when we pause, reflect, and remember those whose lives have been sacrificed so that we may live safely with the freedom our country personifies. Our school held a beautiful ceremony on Friday with selected poems, songs, other readings and an appropriate photo montage for our K-12 community but even then our children were confused.
“So it’s a holiday but we don’t say ‘Happy Memory Day’?” our son asks.
“No, because it’s not a happy day even though you are happy because you do not have to go to school. It’s a serious day where we remember people who have passed away who died in combat or in other ways connected to war.”
“Hmmm, am I supposed to feel sad then because I don’t feel sad?” I assure him that he does not need to feel sad, but that it’s important we honor the American Flag and be respectful. As they grow older, their questions about war and violence and liberty grow more complex. I find myself saying frequently, “I do not have the answer to that, but maybe we can think on it together.”
Memorial Day when I was a kid meant a parade with flags and marching bands and Veterans and storytelling about family members who had served time in the war. Yet Memorial Day is not supposed to be about the Veterans who survived conflict and war; rather, the day is spent in memory honoring those who did not. My mother’s father, Harris Prahm, fought bravely in the Army during WWII but suffered a heart attack in the woods and died while hunting when she was only eight years old. My grandmother then remarried the man I knew as my Grampy Bud, also known as Buddy Sullivan. Together, they raised seven children, three from each of their first marriages and one from their union. He also survived WWII with tours to Italy and Africa to die from cancer when I was about Greta’s age. However, I remember very vivid details about him– like the fact that he walked seven miles every day and taught me how to mark my trail with stones when we hiked in the woods together. Now as an adult, I wonder how he remembered his time in the war. Or did he walk seven miles, one for each child he was then “surviving” as a Veteran? I was too little to ask what it was like to be in war; he was just my Grampy, but I know he suffered emotional trauma while it was happening which did impact him throughout his later years.
I read about the loved ones and war widows who have been left behind when casualties strike our armed forces. We honor their memory with patriotism and love for our country– and the hope, unrealistic or not, that our children’s world will be different from the terrorism which impacts ours or the Great Wars, not so great at all, which thwarted our predecessors.
Our son tells us he wants to be a soldier; he is only seven, and really all he wants is to be given permission to shoot a gun. However, we all grew up alongside young men and women who dedicated their lives to military service; we all grew up listening to stories about our grandparents in WW2 or Korea or our parents’ generation in Vietnam,; we all grew up experiencing the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the War waged against Osama Bin Laden following Sept. 11, and every subsequent terrorist attack on and away from our soil since; we have listened to the names read of the lives lost before their time. We honor them the only way we know how: with gratitude, faith, and the American spirit.
Explaining “Memorial Day” to our kids sounds a little bit spending time in the “Stop and Think It Over” chair in our daughter’s classroom. Sometimes, we need to make space and time to pause, reflect, and remember about what is important. We need to take deep breaths and remember those who fought for us before we were even born and those who died before they could grow old. We need to make memories for them and understand that their sacrifices will not be forgotten.
Thank you fallen soldiers for your work here on Earth— and for those still on active duty and Veterans everywhere, thank you as well for doing the difficult work of serving our country here and around the world. And for all of your families, we will continue to keep you safe in our thoughts and prayers.