Memorial Day has always been a special holiday in our family. For my own children it mostly meant the beginning of summer, a day off from school and a family picnic. During family visits like this we would always gather around the table and
gossip talk and laugh. My girls always liked to spend time with their Grandma Prudie, because she seemed to always have a funny observation or story to tell. Every year on Memorial Day she would remind us of the time in grade school when she was required to memorize the poem “In Flanders Fields” by John McRae, a remembrance written during the first World War. She would recite it word for word, and we were always impressed that she could remember it all of these years later. We would talk of their Great Grandfather, who served in that war, but whom they had never met. A few years before she died, she challenged my youngest daughter to memorize it as well. She did, and now she can recite it (almost) as well as her Grandmother could! The poem now serves to remind our family of my Mom as well as the soldiers that it was written about.
This past weekend I tagged along with my sister and my 5-year-old nephew to the cemetery to plant flowers at my Mother’s grave and to visit the graves of our maternal grandparents. This tradition is one that my sister and mother shared for years before my Mother’s death. I was never really a part of the ritual, but I respected the fact that they did it together every year and it was meaningful to both of them. I have joined my sister and her son the last few years to keep her company. I felt that it might be difficult for her to do this without my Mom, and also because I wanted to spend more time with her family.
Cemeteries have never really been “my thing”. I guess that I felt that I would rather remember loved ones in places that I had memories of them. I have told my own family that I have no interest in being buried in a cemetery – I want my ashes scattered and have told them to “plant a tree or something” if they need a visiting place. Better yet – they can go to Mexico and feel my spirit there!
This year Memorial Day seems to hold an even more significant meaning for our family, because we lost another of our children’s grandparents last fall. Grandpa Ray, who was such a large part of their lives, was a Veteran. He is buried in the Soldier’s Circle at one of our local Cemeteries. His stone was recently placed, and Jim and I had a plan to visit his grave later in the weekend.
The time spent in the cemetery listening to my nephew’s observations, and his mother’s patient responses, along with the first visit to my father-in-law’s resting place have given me a better appreciation for Memorial Day and what it means to those of us that are left behind when loved ones pass away. The history that is present there and the lives and stories that the sites represent seem so much more meaningful when there is a recent connection. The love and care shown by family members trying to give something back, to make an adequate tribute, is touching and personal. I have a new-found respect for this annual tradition.
My children are very lucky to have had such involved grandparents on both sides of our family. They had the chance to know them and love them and learn from them. I am lucky that my sister feels so strongly about keeping up this yearly practice. It gave me a chance to think about what family means to me and how much richer my life is because of all of them.