Every year, Americans look forward to the last weekend in May.
It’s the official start of the summer season, after all. When I was little, Memorial Day weekend was when our local Dairy Queen finally opened for the season—a cause for much celebration. It was when we would hold the first of many family cookouts until Labor Day when we’d finally close the pool and start wearing black shoes again.
This weekend is great for sales. We can get deals on everything from a new mattress to a new car, or even class packages at our local yoga studio. For the vast majority of people, these things are what Memorial Day brings to mind.
However, my uncle begs to differ. Every year he’d make sure to tell us that Memorial Day isn’t just about barbecues and bargains—it’s not simply another three-day weekend. Memorial Day is a serious holiday meant specifically to honor those who have died in the service of our country.
To ignore the tragedy behind the extra day off does a terrible disservice to the memories of those who made the ultimate sacrifice for the very freedom we’re enjoying now.
Americans have observed Memorial Day since just after the Civil War, and let’s not confuse this with Veteran’s Day. In November, we honor all who served, and continue to serve, in our armed forces. The last Monday in May, though, is when we pay our respects to the many brave men and women who have given their lives. This is also a day when we honor our nation’s beloved Gold Star families.
Here are nine ways we can enjoy our barbecues, shopping, and swimming while still honoring this special day of remembrance with gratitude for the lives that made our fun possible:
1. Visit a cemetery.
Lay flowers or a flag on the grave of a loved one who served, or even a stranger. This site helps locate a veteran cemetery nearby.
2. Say their names.
A friend once told me, “In the military community, we paraphrase the quote, ‘A man dies twice; the second time is when his name is last spoken.’ You’ll see in many organizations they reiterate with a simple request to read each name aloud as you lay flowers or flags in memory of the service members’ sacrifices to this country. Military installations and some towns still have a reading of the names.” Use Google or Facebook to find Memorial Day readings in your area and attend one. These ceremonies are tremendously moving and meaningful.
4. Wear a poppy pin and display a flag on your house.
We don’t have to support the current administration or be “pro-war” to express love for our country. Think of how meaningful a simple gesture like this would be to the family members of a fallen soldier who might be passing by.
5. Watch or listen to the National Memorial Day Concert.
This is an annual concert held on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol. Every year it is broadcast live on PBS and NPR. This year’s concert is on May 28th at 6p.m. (MST). While you’re at it, donate to your local PBS and NPR stations. They need all the help we can give them in these uncertain times.
6. Volunteer with, or give to T.A.P.S.
The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors is an organization created by a Gold Star wife to help families who’ve lost a loved one in service of our country. They offer tremendous support to grieving families in this situation and even have camps for children who lost a parent.
7. Choose one of the many causes to donate time or money to.
There are lots of walks and runs and tons of scholarships that could use our assistance. Seek out a cause that resonates with you and offer what you can.
8. Reach out to a Gold Star family and thank them.
Bring them food, take them out, invite them over, or let them just talk and share stories about their loved ones. Let them know their sacrifices weren’t in vain, and that their family members will be remembered.
9. Reach out to a veteran.
Yes, this isn’t Veteran’s Day, but consider that most of our vets who’ve returned home have lost dear friends and this may be a hard day for them—one filled with confusing feelings of sadness, anger, fear, and even guilt. They may need to know that someone cares and they aren’t alone. Here are some resources to assist all veterans in need or in crisis.
May we all have a safe and enjoyable Memorial Day weekend. Get together with family and friends, take advantage of those sales, maybe pay the closest Dairy Queen a visit, but always remember the sacrifices of those who gave their lives and their dearest loved ones to keep us safe and protect our freedom.