Following the Civil War a day was set aside to decorate the graves of those lost to the carnage of war. Decoration Day was to honor their sacrifice and encourage families and friends to decorate the graves with flowers and flags. After World War II this day of remembrance became known as Memorial Day.
Memorial Day remains a day to remember those who have served their country and made the ultimate sacrifice. It has broadened to include a remembrance of all who have died. Somewhat like the ‘Day of the Dead’ in Mexico, it can be a day in which families gather to remember their loved ones as they plant flowers, place photos, light candles and set flags.
My last Memorial Day with my Dad (Norman) was in 2000. With my daughter Lindsay, Norman walked us through the family cemetery in Central Falls, Rhode Island. With his Oregon grand-daughter he walked from grave to grave explaining to Lindsay who her people were.
One grave was marked: ‘Moses Harrop – born 1903 – died 1906’.
This little boy who was his uncle, died before my Dad was born. Norman wanted both Lindsay and me to know that Moses was part of our family.
And so we walked from grave to grave hearing names, some for the first time and being reminded that we belonged to them and they belonged to us. Five months later we would be laying Norman to rest in the same soil.
Living in Oregon I can’t walk the graves of the family cemetery in Rhode Island. Yet on Memorial Day, I will pause and remember who I am, as I remember the ones to whom I belong. This Memorial Day let us remember and find meaning and even comfort, in the memory of those who went before us. Let us offer a prayer of thanks for those who have helped us become the people we are today.
May they rest in peace.