Memorial Day Weekend – Summer’s Signal to some, and moments to mourn for others… How do we navigate these seemingly colliding times?
As a young girl, my Mom made sure I understood Memorial Day offered a point of pause to remember those who had passed on before us. We’d rise early to take flowers Mom tenderly arranged to her Grandpa’s grave at our little rural cemetery on the edge of our little homestead-hometown in southeastern Wyoming.
A grandpa I’d never met because he died when my Mom was in the seventh grade. She’d tell me stories of how this Grandpa Harry snuck cookies to my Mom and her siblings behind Grandma Carrie’s back. “He sure got a kick out doing that.” She remembered.
I pictured him in overalls and glasses from a fading photo I remember seeing. Mostly, I remember his smile. Since we grew up among Swedish immigrants, I may have been more accustom to stoic grins than unbridled smiles. But I remember his glasses and his smile.
Every Memorial Day I lived in Wyoming, we paused. To remember. As we made our way through the cemetery with utmost respect, reverence, and quiet, my parents pointed out a few other family members and friends. Many, already grew grass despite the arid climate. And from time to time, an oblong dirt mound reminded us … loss, still fresh, lingered here.
Let me be clear- our faith believes our loved ones weren’t pandering somewhere in a holding dimension; rather, their souls released from earthly bindings had already gone on to their eternal resting place. The cemetery visit wasn’t to see them or hope they saw us, but more of an action to remember, to remind ourselves of our own mortality, to acknowledge those who’ve gone before us, and a substantial sober action to soak in the reality we’re just a part of a legacy… we’re the living … we’re responsible to live…
… maybe even pondering of what future generations might remember should they ever stand alongside our well-manicured grassy tomb…
This Grandpa Harry, though foreign to me, seemed so familiar. He was a pioneer, a farmer, and a hero. He was my Grandpa’s Dad. Did my wise Grandpa ever really need a Dad?
While this foreign and fun Grandpa Harry died in his sleep as he’d always prayed he would, we remembered his life, faith, humility, and wonder. He’d even prayed the right prayers leading to his preference of death. And we remembered him as our family hero who endured difficulty cultivating a farm, yet lived well. A long enough life. And a peaceful end.
“From Aristotle I learned that a story must have a beginning, a middle, and an end.”
-Madeleine L’Engle Walking on Water: Reflections of Faith and Art
When Jamie, my cousin, died at 17 years old… by his own hand. I didn’t know where to put that, especially on Memorial Day and any other holiday.
Most citizens of the USA, if they even celebrate the “memorial” aspect of the day, acknowledge the valiant military losses and move on to celebrating the gateway weekend to summer with picnics, boating, water-skiing, maybe camping, if they live far enough north.
The pause seemed it ought be a necessity, but who has room for such a pause when cynicism and silly seem to have edged out any really capacity to remember a complex life and a complex death?
Yes, picnics saddle up the summer season, and we ought to freely celebrate.
But how do we really navigate season’s signal that represent such seemingly carefree celebrating when our own hearts beat heavy… if they beat at all…??? We recognize our need to pause.
Oh, Lord, how do we soberly remember and simultaneously celebrate with the living?
“I will walk with the Lord in the land of the living.”
Heidi L. Paulec