I remember my Mom telling my sister Barb and me: “Tomorrow is Decoration Day. And we’re going to the cemetery.”
Not the place most kids want to go. Or ever go, in some cases.
But I remember looking forward to visiting the resting place on the hill and hearing familiar stories about our ancestors.
Tower Heights Cemetery. Humidity and sunshine often created an early summer day for us. Walking through soft, moist grass. Hearing the sounds of birds singing and cicadas buzzing. Looking out across West Frankfort from the highest point around.
Together, Mom, Dad, Barb, and I decorated the graves of my grandparents, aunts, and uncles by placing flowers there. We’d say hello to other families who were honoring their deceased loved ones in the same way.
My Mom told us about how her parents immigrated to the U.S. from Czechoslovakia without even knowing English. My Dad told us how his dad had died from appendicitis and his brother had died in a train accident on my Dad’s birthday.
Then Dad, Barb, and I would walk among the graves. Dad would tell us stories about other people from our hometown who were buried there. Mom would continue to arrange the flowers until they met her decorating standards.
On the way home, we’d stop at a farmstand to buy homegrown strawberries. I still remember how they were red all the way through and tasted like sweet sunshine.
Sounds kind of weird in today’s culture, I know. But that was one way we made friends with death.
Today we call this holiday Memorial Day. And we talk about the soldiers who gave their lives for our country to protect our freedom.
Today is also a day to remember all of our loved ones who have passed away. To feel sad about the days of our lives that they missed sharing with us. To wonder what they would have added to our lives if they had lived longer.
It’s okay to remember. It’s okay to miss them. Especially today.