Memorial Day weekend is a time to think of and honor the many fallen war heroes as well as our own dear loved ones who have passed on from our lives. We honor and remember them through the many ceremonies presented in their behalf and with the multitude of flowers and decorations placed in the cemeteries by their graves. It’s also a time when family is gathering together, BBQ grills are getting fired up, and other traditions are carried out as well as big promotional sales happening in stores and on line everywhere. It’s amazing what our society and our own minds turn to and tune in to during holidays.
I have spent some time these past few days thinking on this particular holiday and what it is and why and how we celebrate it.
As a child I remember looking forward to going every year with my family to visit the graves of some of my ancestors. We’d bring flowers and read their headstones and hear stories from my parents about them. Then we’d all gather at the park and play and swim and eat and enjoy time with family. As I grew older and life got busier I didn’t do this as often. Then as I got married and had a family of my own there were a few times when my children were little that I joined with my parents and some siblings trying to pass on the tradition to the next generation. Now as a busy single mom with older children with lives of their own…it just doesn’t seem like something that we are able or even very willing to make much of a continued tradition out of. And logistically it’s harder, as over the years, the sheer number of loved ones who have passed on have increased and their various places of burial have become more and more scattered across the country.
But this year I decided to set aside all the busy and crazy logistics and simply go with my parents and little sister one more time to put some flowers on some graves of loved ones passed. I couldn’t get any of my kids to go. We didn’t get together for a big celebration afterwards. It was a rather simple and quick trip together but it was a very memorable experience and I’m grateful I went. Something amazing happened to me this time and the thoughts and emotions I’ve been experiencing just keep coming. I’ll try and share some of them with you here now.
Cemeteries seem to come alive with so many people visiting them and countless colors of beautiful bouquets and other decorations are placed upon the many gravesides. As I walked through a few of these familiar cemeteries myself the other day and have driven by others all showing the same signs of love and honor expressed… I was overcome with deep love and gratitude for each and every person whose bodies lie buried in the ground, only a handful of whom I knew personally. I thought also of all those who have lived and died throughout the world and ages that do not have a proper burial place where loved ones can come and place flowers on their grave in honor and remembrance of them, including many who are actually buried in the cemeteries but that are unmarked and untouched by such tokens of love and remembrance.
And the question came: How do we truly honor and love those who have passed on?
And the answer followed: We live our lives!
We live our lives full of love and joy and gratitude for all we have and all we are and all we get to experience. We live our lives in service and friendship, in support and love and acceptance of others. We live our lives being true to ourselves. We live our lives pursing our passions and dreams, sharing our wisdom and insights. We live our lives not in fear, worry, regret, or shame but in love, hope, joy, and peace.
And as I thought more about how all those who have passed on lived their lives and how I am choosing to live mine.
Another thought came: Death is temporary! Life is eternal!
Whether you believe in an actual after life or not… this statement is still true. Allow me to explain.
Death is something that each of us at some point in time will experience. There will be a time when our physical bodies will no longer exists in the form as they now do. They will cease to function and move and breathe and walk and roam the earth. They may end up buried in the ground, or at sea, or spread in ashes across the air. No matter how, no matter when, it will happen to us, a onetime temporary thing our body will experience.
But our life…the life we live no matter how well or how long, has and will leave an eternal mark on this earth and in the lives of all those we had contact with. Whether that be as a parent, grandparent, great-grandparent, and back a thousand greats…our posterity is affected by us and our life. They exist because we lived! As a spouse, sibling, a cousin, aunt, uncle or friend…as a neighbor, a fellow classmate or co-worker, a driver on the road, a customer in our business, or in line at the store, even a random stranger we cross by in a crowded parking lot or amusement park… each and every person that lives leaves an eternal mark on this earth and its people, with their life!
Sometimes the mark we leave with our life may not be the most influential as far as fame and fortune goes. It may not even be all that great as far as a personal powerful and righteous legacy we leave to our posterity but we all leave one. For good or ill. We do. We leave an imprint on the generations that follow us. It’s in our DNA and it is passed down physically and emotionally. Even those who may not live long enough to actual experience having a physical posterity of their own, they still leave a mark in the lives of parents, siblings, and friends which are passed on through them.
So how do we live our lives to honor those who have passed on in their temporary death yet left with us their eternal life…through their legacy, example and love?
Again…We live our lives!
We love. We serve. We bless. We support. We cherish. We forgive. We laugh. We cry. We learn. We succeed. We fail. We overcome. We learn some more. We forgive again. We love more deeply. We try harder. We forgive again and again. We give. We live!
So whether you’re my great grandmother that I never knew in life… I carry your same name with love, honor and appreciation throughout my life. Or my grandpa who traveled far to visit and support me in a milestone event in my life, only to pass from this life a few months later… I try to love and support those in my family and who are dear to me as you did for me. Or my sweet cousin who was taken away way too young and in the oddest most unexpected way…the memory of spending time with you in my youth and being blessed by you and your family as you so generously loved and served me and mine all those years ago and then again many years later, I will live to love and serve others as you so graciously and freely did with your eternal life. Or my dear neighbor boy who struggled so much to live this challenging life…your smile and sweet spirit still lingers in my heart and lives in my mind as I deal with my own struggling children and other youth in this world, trying to help them find and feel of their worth and power and to know that they are loved.
To all the husbands, and wives, fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, friends and neighbors, who have left this life through your temporary death, whether or not your physical life was long or short in actual number of years…know that because you lived and because you died, the earth is better and blessed and its purpose fulfilled. And because you lived and died your life lives on eternally in the hearts and homes, and memories, and lives of all of those who knew and loved you and even in those who didn’t know you or you them, personally, you still left a mark and impact on this earth and in their lives!
And to all those who now live…Live your lives so that when your temporary death comes you will leave the kind of eternal life that you desire for all those whom you love and serve and who will come after you and will also live and die and live forever throughout the generations. Honor yourselves. Honor your loved ones. Honor those who have lived and passed on yet live on because you choose to joyfully, lovingly and gratefully live your life!
Happy Memorial Day!