Keeping Memorial Day memorable during a pandemic


I am glad we have Memorial Day. Its intent is like no other U.S. public holiday.

There is no popping of champagne bottles, no chocolate bunnies, no fireworks, no unwrapping presents. Originally known as Decoration Day, Memorial Day was set to honor the Union soldiers lost in the Civil War.

Now, of course, Memorial Day has a much broader purpose. In 1968, Congress established the last Monday in May as Memorial Day to honor all who served. The legislation also created a three-day weekend for federal employees.

A Civil War monument.
Consequently, Memorial Day morphed into a long weekend with picnics, barbeques, family gatherings, patriotic parades, and other assorted gatherings. Miniature American flags mark the graves of veterans.

Memorial Day always meant a lot to my parents. They made sure fresh flowers were placed or planted at the graves of close relatives. It was a time of solemn, respectful remembrances.

I embraced that lesson. After Dad died, I took it upon myself to carry on the family tradition of commemorating family graves with flowers. By then, most cemetery rules had changed to only allow artificial arrangements and wreaths at headstones, and only for so long.

I suppose real or plastic floral displays weren’t the point. The act of remembering was what mattered.

Since we no longer live in Ohio, that physical act of remembering has ended for me. Like most everything else in our current COVID-19 world, I’ll do a virtual visit through my photo library to pay my respects and refresh my memories.

The pandemic will definitely make this a different kind of Memorial Day for most. Many parks and playgrounds will rightly remain closed as a necessary precaution against the spread of this invisible virus.

There will be no baseball games to attend or watch, no picnics to enjoy the fellowship of family and friends. Concerts and parades have been canceled. Nevertheless, we can still carry on the intended spirit of the day.

I will sit on our patio and contemplate the good times of the past. I will especially remember those who are gone. I’ll recall memorable family stories that my parents told about relatives that I never met. Grandpa Frith died from accidental electrocution six months before I was born. A thoughtless prank in a steel factory killed a great uncle. Every family has similar sad stories.

In many places, our western society views Memorial Day as the end of the school year and the unofficial start of summer. Both of those may be true, but the classes of 2020 won’t have the pomp and circumstance of traditional commencement ceremonies or the celebration of graduation parties.

As much as we would like to be out and about for such events, my wife and I will continue to play it safe. We will continue to social distance and mostly stay at home for the duration.

Vacations, weddings, celebrations, and sports activities, to name a few, have all been canceled, delayed, or postponed due to the spread of the deadly virus. Many may happen virtually using today’s innovative technology.

For that, I am happy. However, many will mourn either a recent loss or a loved one who died long ago. I will grieve, too.

Memorial Day is for remembering and honoring. For those who survive this momentous universal event, however long it lasts, I hope they look back to this Memorial Day in awe. I hope, too, the day will etch a more meaningful, profound, and indelible mental mark.

Wasn’t that the primary point of Memorial Day? Isn’t it still?

Making memories.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020