OPINION – Memorial Day has never been my favorite holiday. Over time, however, it is becoming one of the most meaningful holidays to me.
As a kid, Memorial Day meant a visit to my grandparents in Rupert, Idaho, coupled with a trip out to the cemetery to place flowers on the graves of departed loved ones. Any enthusiasm I felt was primarily for getting to see my grandparents and possibly talking my granddad into taking me fishing.
As I grew older, I would often make excuses to get out of our yearly excursion. The cemetery held little interest for me, although I noticed that more often than not, a sort of spontaneous family reunion always seemed to take place while we were there.
My parents would encounter various aunts and uncles and cousins and spent what seemed like a long time reconnecting with them. There was always laughter and reminiscing.
I’m ashamed to admit that the familiar faces of relatives we encountered each year were just that – faces to which I couldn’t easily put a name. They all remembered me and were kind to me, but I took for granted that I’d get to know them as I grew older and had more in common with them.
It wasn’t until those names began to appear on their own grave markers that I started truly appreciating the individuals and the life stories behind them. Talk about missed opportunities.
After we had buried my dad and my maternal grandparents, I finally began to understand that each headstone we visited on Memorial Day represented someone’s life story. With that understanding came a desire to know more about those who had gone before.
Fortunately, my mom had collected and saved family photos and letters all her life. When I sat down with her and went through them, she could fill in the details about each person and their life story.
Bit by bit, I came to realize that each of the individuals I was coming to know were not so different than me. They were simply further along in the journey than I was.
It was at this point I recognized the magnitude of the missed opportunity that passed me by when I had little interest in learning what they had to share. Their hard-won wisdom could have benefited me in so many ways.
I only wish I had learned to ask them to share it earlier.
Learning of their their tragedies and triumphs gave me an appreciation for how many ways life can unfold and how we can respond to the curve balls that come our way. Many of them experienced World War II and the Great Depression and had powerful insights into how to distinguish between things of substance and passing fads.
Above all, I learned it is possible to take for granted that our loved ones will always be there and that we’ll have all the time we need with them to focus on the things that matter most.
Every grave marker in every cemetery is proof positive that this is not the case.
Some of the headstones tell the tale of a long life where there was ample opportunity to experience what this world has to offer. Others are poignant reminders of how fleeting our existence can be.
It’s proper to memorialize and honor our deceased loved ones. Whether it’s in the setting of a green cemetery with fragrant flowers and flags snapping in the breeze, or in a less formal setting, sitting around a kitchen table going through old photos, there is something we can learn from them.
We can also choose to preserve the details of our own life story for those who will follow us in this journey. A personal journal may seem like a pointless waste of time to us, but it will be of immeasurable value to family members who may never have the opportunity to meet us face to face.
It’s revealing how those who begin to delve into family history often discover a passion for connecting with their ancestors that increases the more they research. We come to understand how our existence is intertwined with theirs in ways we hadn’t expected.
Someday, it will be our descendants who may be making a similar connection, and they deserve to know our life story.
Better still, we can seize the opportunity to reach out to our loved ones of all ages and strengthen those bonds today – while we can still enjoy their company.
This can be tricky since family dynamics can be fraught with drama. In our current cultural climate, there are a lot of families in various states of estrangement and dysfunction. Most grudges aren’t worth perpetuating.
The folks who are visiting around those graves on Memorial Day seem to have greater clarity regarding what matters the most. Time with our loved ones is not to be taken for granted.
Bryan Hyde is an opinion columnist specializing in current events viewed through the lens of common sense. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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