While holidays are meant to be celebrated with family and fun, some are meant to focus on something more. Memorial Day is about more than making memories with friends; it is about honoring the memories of fallen brothers and sisters.
Before I was a military spouse, I had fleeting thoughts about Memorial Day that never qualified as a true understanding of what this holiday is about. I grew up like everyone else. I saw the holiday as time off with the family and friends, a four-day for camping or BBQing. The majority of Americans’ celebrate Memorial Day in much the same way. Less than 10% of the population is serving or has served in the military. For most people, it’s just another fun four-day weekend.
It took a few years of actually being a military spouse before I started understanding the community. For the last handful of Memorial Days, I’ve noticed a difference. There is a distance that exists for the soldiers and veterans– a sadness in their eyes. It takes empathy and respect to notice such changes. It may be a quiet shudder when they are thanked for their service. To the living, these appreciations are an alarming reminder of how misunderstood this group is in general. The last thing they want is appreciation on any holiday, but this one especially. This day is reserved for the brothers and sisters who have paid the ultimate cost, the ones who still haunt their memories and dreams. It’s a day that demands deep respect and honor. It’s about honoring the dead. It’s a cutting reminder that freedom doesn’t come free.
For those of us who haven’t lost brothers and sisters, but friends or acquaintances, this holiday is also deeply meaningful. As a military spouse, I am reminded of all the individuals I’ve met who have since passed away. It is a time to refocus on what is important. It is a reminder that our spouse’s mission is to serve and that we aren’t guaranteed a future together. It’s about the extra steps we take to make sure our loved ones are okay.
This year, my family is going on a mini vacation for Memorial Day. We will be celebrating life and time together, because that is very much coveted these days. Although we will be making fun memories with our children, we will also stop to remember what this holiday is really about. We will talk with our kids about freedom and how it doesn’t come free. Most importantly, we will take time to be solemn and respectful for the fallen. We will reflect on the memories of those we have known and we will honor the brave men and women who have paid the ultimate sacrifice, because that is what this holiday is about.