Forgetting Memorial Day?

I’d like to thank you for your thoughts on Memorial Day.

Though I’ve never spent a day in the military, my ancestors have. Two of them, a father and son team, lost their lives trying to uphold the ideal of freedom in Korea. I’ve always wondered what I could have learned from them had they been alive today. All the family history and anecdotes they would have told me are gone forever.

But today is for them, or is it? The BBQs, the beer, the parties, the store sales and general sheer ignorance insults all veterans alive or dead. Is one day of rememberance too much? Is one moment?

If we actually sat down and thought and reflected on what thay did, we would have sorrow, not bashes. It is not normal to celebrate deaths with parties and drunkenness.

Before we light up our grills, we should go out in the streets, find a veteran, and get on our knees and thank him/her for our still being free. If we can’t find one, find their relatives and talk to them about their lost one, so often, they need to talk, but we don’t want to listen.

If we do that before we go to the backyard that we are allowed to freely have, and the grill we had the freedom to choose which we bought with the wage we had the freedom to earn and mostly keep, and cook the food we freely chose at the fully stocked supermarket, it will taste better because we will appreciate all that. With that comes the realization that perhaps we might have lost it all if not for the brave veterans who are supposed to be honored today.

Ed. note: People tend to avoid matters they are uncomfortable with. Death is one of them; gratitude another.

While it can be “normal” to celebrate a death (an Irish wake comes to mind), the idea under those circumstances is to celebrate a person’s life. If you don’t do that (and the emphasis should be on the deceased, not the drink), then you’re still avoiding the subject.

To illustrate the problem, let me rant about something closely related,

I hate most wakes I go to for this very reason. People come in and spend ten minutes making socially appropriate noises. At the end of their attention span, they resume normal babbling about anything and everything except the deceased, who gets treated with about as much attention, thought and respect as one of the chairs.

What is the point in long, drawn-out wakes, outside of providing jobs for embalmers? (Wakes were much shorter before embalming became commonplace; nature and the deceased made sure of that.)

Maybe it takes you three days of looking at a corpse to realize the person’s really dead and not fooling, but I get it a lot quicker than that.

The practice itself in the West is a descendant of pre-Christian Germanic practice, based on the belief that the spirit of the deceased lingers around to see if it receives proper respect, and stays around to haunt those who don’t.

Whether you’re Christian or atheist, that doesn’t hold water, but even if you believe that to be true, just how respectful is any self-respecting ghost going to find you acting like it’s a coffee klatch?

Console those nearest and dearest to the recently departed? How do you console somebody in fifteen seconds or less? Have you ever been truly consoled by anybody in fifteen seconds or less? Do you think your fifteen seconds is worth the burden of being there on stage for endless hours waiting for you to show up?

I’m not arguing against remembering and respecting the dead; I’m arguing for it. It just doesn’t happen at most wakes.

Memorial services have become a lot more popular, and I think this is a great idea. Anything a wake does or is supposed to do, a memorial service should do better. That at least has a better chance of truly honoring the dead and consoling the living, than a bunch of people hanging around who have no idea of why they’re there outside of knowing they have to be there.

But even that isn’t quite enough. Just don’t say, “I’m so sorry.” It’s better than saying, “I’m so glad,” but it’s not really helpful. Try to do something concretely helpful for them during that time. Drop by a bit more often than you might otherwise over the next few months, and give them the freedom to talk the week or the month or three months after. That’s how you console.

Don’t get married to thoughtless tradition. I remember one in-law defending some wake practice by declaring, “It is the Italian way,” and to her, that ended the discussion. Well, feeding Christians to lions used to be “the Italian way” too, along with crucifixions and gladiator fights. Times change.

If something no longer fulfills its original purpose, replace it with something that does.

Back to Memorial Day.

The point of Memorial Day is to remember. Not necessarily mourn or wail all day, I’m sure the deceased veterans wouldn’t want that. But they wouldn’t want you to completely ignore or forget them, either. Would you? –Ed

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