Saturday Morning Message: Memorial Day Events
Author: Carol Lane
I wanted to share one of my favorite areas at the 23rd Annual TAPS National Military Survivor Seminar and Good Grief Camp, which was where I was for Memorial Day weekend. This is a picture of the TAPS Family Tree. Survivors were encouraged to take a paper leaf and write a message to their loved one. There was a sticky back to the leaf, and the survivors could place it next to their loved one’s picture. The Family Tree was in a hall that I frequently passed through, so each time, I could see there were additional leaves and could stop to read some of them.
This week’s message is a bit longer than usual because there were so many great replies sent. The first two responses, from Belinda and Leslie, were from last week, but I am resharing them so you can read the responses in their entirety.
Would you like to share a question or read how other survivors respond to a topic or question you have? I would love to gather some thoughts for future Saturday Morning Messages. You can also submit favorite songs that are meaningful to you. It can be helpful to read and hear how others cope. If you would like to send a message thanking one or all of those who wrote this week, send it to me and I will make sure your thoughts are passed along to them.
In addition to the ideas shared below, we can also honor our loved ones by communicating with each other through writing. You never know how your words may touch the heart of another. I encourage you to reply to the Saturday Morning Message by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. I directly receive all responses that are sent to this address. In order to have your reply included in the week’s Saturday Morning Message, it is best to send them to me by Tuesday of the following week. This week's question is located below my signature. Thank you to everyone responding this week and those who read this message.
Question for Next Week’s Saturday Morning Message
At the TAPS National Seminar, I had a chance to talk with many volunteers who shared that they help TAPS because it also helps them for a variety of reasons. This brought to mind a question Marsha, mother of Patrick, gave me that would be great for this week: What volunteer work do you do that brings comfort and/or helps you through your grief?
♫ Song for the Week
Don, father of Joshua and staff member of the TAPS Survivor Care Team, wrote about the meaning to him of this week’s song, “Love Wins” by Love and Theft. He wrote, “For many years, my favorite song has been ‘Imagine’ by John Lennon. I have not heard a song that resonated with how I want to live my life as much as ‘Imagine’ until I heard this just a few weeks ago. I love the meaning behind the words, the melody of the song and the gifted voices of the men who sing it. It has a profound message, which is so needed today! I feel as if Josh's spirit has introduced this song to me as a way to let me know he will never leave me — because ‘Love Wins’!”
Answers from Survivors
From Leslie, mother of Eugene: This Memorial Day weekend was busy. I picked out two flowering trees to be planted by the bench I built at Calverton National Cemetery. They will be planted in a week. My son loved flowering trees, so he should be happy.
My dad, a World War II Navy vet, and I went to visit my surviving son. The park near him was a celebration of soldiers alive and not. It was a fun time for the kids yet sensitive and wonderful for those of us who know what Memorial Day is really about. It ended with glorious fireworks.
From Belinda, mother of Benjamin: First, Glen, my husband, and I traveled to North Carolina because our daughter Stacie’s church was involved in the Freedom Balloon Fest in Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina. This was a festival to honor our fallen heroes and Gold Star families. The assistant pastor at Stacie’s church knew I was a Gold Star mom. He and one of the organizers asked me to come.
We couldn’t stay for the whole weekend. The ceremonies honoring our fallen and Gold Star families were amazing and uplifting. This made a big difference in my daughter’s life and the way she looked at my grief journey.
We came home Saturday and on Monday went to the veterans cemetery where Benjamin is buried for a service there. Since my son has been gone, I’ve gotten to know the people at the cemetery, and now they are family. The service was great. I do all that I do to honor Benjamin’s service and memory.
Cheryl, mother of Jack: I spent Memorial Day morning at the cemetery where my son is buried. They have a wonderful ceremony. Included are the Pledge of Allegiance, the national anthem, an address and the reading of the names. A large crowd (it is a small community) gathers to pay respect.
I arrived a little before it started and visited with Jack a bit. I had brought a little something to place by the stone. It always causes a churning of many emotions. I feel that I have wonderful support from young and old, family and friends, and I am so grateful!
From Diane, mother of Caleb: On Saturday, I drove to Denver. A tribute to our fallen was held on Capitol Hill. The street leading to the building was lined with veterans holding our flag. The ceremony is always so touching. Soloists sang songs from different war eras. What was the most touching to me was when “God Bless The USA” was sung. One by one, Gold Star family members stood as we heard the lyrics, “And I won't forget the men who died, who gave that right to me. And I'll gladly stand up next to you, and defend her still today.” I don't believe there was a dry eye in the building.
I don't get to see my Gold Star family very often, so it was a very special time, visiting, having lunch and just being with people who are on this same journey. My oldest son was also able to meet me at the tribute, so that was wonderful. As Gold Star families, our understanding of Memorial Day is personal. Our heart bonds are strong and eternal because of our loved ones.
On Sunday, I drove through the Garden of the Gods and onto Green Mountain Falls on SPC Rob Lee Nichols Memorial Highway. Rob’s mom is a special friend. As I drove, I was remembering Rob and feeling closer to Caleb because they left this world the same year, just months apart. I then got to have lunch with Scoti, a Gold Star mom. It helped both of us with the difficult weekend, and it was so nice to visit.
On Memorial Day, I was home. I went to our cemetery memorial service alone. I was thankful for the people who mentioned Caleb. It was a hard day to be alone. I decided to have lunch at our VFW. The missing man table was set with the one place setting. I was in the right place — a place that honored our fallen. I was able to sit at the table where my son's picture hangs, which was great because it seems everybody likes sitting there! The server told me she had visited Caleb's spot with her little girl, and her daughter left flowers for Caleb. Other people who were eating there came up and told me they were thinking of me, of Caleb. Can I tell you how much that helped? I got a call from a special Blue Star mom from across the United States to tell me she was thinking of Caleb's smile and the great friend he was to her son.
I filled the afternoon by visiting and taking flowers to other gravesites. Some are veterans from World War I, World War II and Korea who are buried at our cemetery. At one point, I drove to the Colorado/Kansas state line where two American flags were being flown on the overpass.
Memorial Day tugs at my broken heart. It was a very hard day made easier by the people who reached out, who said Caleb's name, by people who honor our fallen. I'm so grateful.
From Paul, father of Thomas: May is the most difficult month of the year for me. It contains five significant days: my son's day of death, his birthday, his mom's birthday, his grandmother's birthday, Mother's Day and Memorial Day. Each of these occasions reminds me of his permanent absence.
Gold Star families know that every day is Memorial Day. Initially, Memorial Day was a painful holiday for me to observe. However, to my great surprise, observing the holiday contributes to my healing. I would prefer to observe all holidays privately. Nevertheless, I choose to observe Memorial Day publically because it is vital that the public does not forget the day's true meaning — “Freedom isn't Free.” My participation in these ceremonies is my public testimony of my son's life. Indirectly, I am telling my story. Yes, the reminder of my loss is painful, but my feelings are secondary. I try to put my pride and respect for my son's service in front of my grief for his passing.
Since Tom died, on Memorial Day, I attend the official state of Idaho ceremony at the State Veterans Cemetery. My son is buried there. At the ceremony, there is a kinship among attendees. I meet and talk with other Gold Stars and vets who understand and respect the sacrifice made by each fallen soldier, their families, as well as friends and comrades. It is also important for me to express my gratitude to the veterans of previous generations. Idaho's living Medal of Honor recipients are the revered guests. At the ceremony, I see older veterans from World War II and Korea who are in poor health: sitting in a wheelchair, leaning on a walker or needing a cane to steady them. Yet they stand and salute during the national anthem and taps. All of them are so humble and grateful for the opportunity to serve when America needed them. They reluctantly accept the label "hero,” instead preferring that title be given to the fallen. Their honor and integrity chokes me up more than my own grief.
My generation owes its freedom to them and those veterans who came before them. I hope subsequent generations will appreciate their freedoms and include my son and his generation in the long historical line of brave men and women who served to preserve their freedoms. I feel my participation in Memorial Day events facilitates that.
After the ceremony, I go to lunch. As a tribute to Thomas, we all order my son's favorite meal and share stories and memories about him.
From Betty, mother of Michael: This second Memorial Day since the death of our son was spent, as last year, attending the very moving services at Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery where his body is laid to rest. Following the service, we walked back toward his gravesite and noticed a somewhat large group gathered in that area. As we got closer I began to recognize the faces of the men who had served in Michael’s unit. I was so moved that so many of them had come (some with their families) to honor and remember him. Giving each a hug was like hugging my own son again. Their demonstration of love and honor reminded us of how much of Michael remains in the lives of all who knew him.
From Donna, mother of Eric: I went all out this Memorial Day weekend. Fifteen of my son's Marine friends came and brought their families with them. Friends loaned us RVs for all of them to stay. My community helped feed them all. That Friday, May 26, was the fifth angelversary of our precious baby. It was also an alive day for two of the boys who were severely injured in the IED explosion and were in the hospital for Lejeune's memorial service. It was very healing to those boys who never got to say goodbye. It was very healing for us all. A whitewater rafting business donated time for the boys to raft. They had to come together and work as a team to get through the rapids. The brotherhood was instantly back! Then the guys went out — more brotherhood — while the rest of the family stayed with us. Our road was dedicated to Eric by the county. We had a poker run for Eric, a down day with nothing planned but visiting, and then I spoke on Memorial Day and the VFW fed us all. The new stories that I have now will be treasured forever, no matter how inappropriate some were. I have new memories of my baby!
I highly suggest any of you try to do this for your loved one. It was huge work; I spent every day for months getting ready for it. But this was worth every second of it. These boys needed this! They are close again, talking daily in group chats, cheering each other on, razzing each other like only military do, but mostly just feeling like a brotherhood again.
No one could believe that I pulled it all off, but I did because it was for my baby and his Marines. For Eric, I can do anything! And the fact that everything went exactly like I wanted it to made it all the more better.
I had four children here that weekend named after Eric! We get to be grandparents to these kids, a job we would have never gotten to do. I feel so blessed. I feel like my son will never leave their hearts. He will live on for eternity. I was so busy keeping everything going, I couldn't have a meltdown. Of course, it came after the last one left, but I actually celebrated Eric's beautiful life instead of hiding in bed and not getting up. I know my son is very proud of this!