Saturday, May 29, 2010
Memorial Day Is Coming!
My father was in the cemetery business in Florida. Memorial Day meant Memorial Day in our family. There were big doings at the cemetery every year. It was an adult thing, but I knew what was going on. The minister spoke, the graves were decorated, and the flavor of patriotism was for service to a grateful nation. Surviving Veterans were honored, and they took part in honoring their fallen comrades in arms.
Years later, when I lived with my father’s mother in the Washington DC area, Memorial Day was a day for decorating the family graves. There was a time when my grandmother would attend the programs at Arlington National Cemetery, where her husband was buried – so many paces from Pershing’s grave. But I was glad to help her prepare and take flowers from her garden to her family graves in Maryland, the District and Virginia. She did the driving and directing; I did the walking and carrying. I knew these people from her stories, which I had been trying to get written down. We worked on marking pictures, untangling the family tree roots from memory, and tracking down cousins who also had interest in these ancestors. My grandmother lived to be 100, but the life of the dead had been a part of her life for a long time.
Her father died when she was 5, and her mother never remarried. Her mother died when she was 22, when Nana had been married just about a year. One of her sisters died two years after that, while Nana was in Santo Domingo where her husband was stationed with the Navy. Nana’s address book was full of the names of friends who had passed away. When you live so long, you survive a lot of people. Nana knew that death was inevitable, so she focused remembering the lives of her family and friends.
My mother also had a respect for remembering those she knew, whom her mother knew, who were gone. There is a special look someone gets in their eyes when they remember and speak of a loved one who has passed on. I can see my own mother’s eyes that way right now, speaking of her mother’s cousins with whom she corresponded on the family genealogy, whose letters she treasured, especially because they were not able to write letters any more.
I read an article in Readers Digest, and sent away for a bunch of their reprints – “How Will You Know If I Don’t Tell You?” The gist of the article, as I remember it, was that if we appreciate some kindness someone has shown, some goodness we have observed, if we have a kind word – we should not withhold it, because it could make a difference for them. It might help someone, but it won’t if we don’t say it. We all have regrets; that’s an inevitable part of life, too. There are, however, some regrets we can avoid by doing the right thing. What better way to remember someone who has passed away than to remember the sweet communion shared in acknowledging when we were there for each other. Do what you can to ease another’s burden or suffering while you can. Give what you can that will encourage or enable another to be of service. We are all in this together. Our chorus director says Ben Franklin said, “We must all hang together or we shall surely hang separately;” and from Ernest Hemmingway, “Ask not for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” We are in this together, and we could help each other more than we do.
My favorite family history stories are of love in action, Christian service, doing our duty, of taking time for each other. Do you keep a journal? A very large part of our life is of how we interact with our family and friends. Put down when you catch someone doing something nice. Yes, tell them Thank You for being a point of light if you feel to do so. You will find that when you commit to noticing, that you will notice this sort of thing more often. When you read your family history letters and diaries, those endearing incidents will stand out and bless your heart. These deeds are their memorials.
I ran a list in my genealogy program for my Nana – of the people in her extended family who died between the dates that she was alive. As I reviewed this list, sorted chronologically as she aged, I recalled her stories about when her grandparents, her in-laws, parents, her sisters passed…. Then on this timeline, first my father died, then others of her children and grandchildren…until she passed away after 100 years. A death in the family ranks pretty high on the Stressors list, and I learned from Nana that one way to deal with stressful situations is to do something about it. What a comfort it is to have friends and loved ones rally ‘round when a family member dies. Nana was ready to do what she could, from a call, a card, a meal, flowers, to being a friend in a time of need, and prayers, of course. She was following her dear mother’s example. Nettie went to stay and nurse aunts and cousins back to health; they sent for her because of her care giving skills. I only have family in my genealogy database, but being active in her church, I accompanied Nana on some of her errands of love. Nana recognized the truth that “Each Life That Touches Ours For Good, reflects thine own great mercy, Lord….”
When you go to write biographies of your family members, or when you are researching where your family has gone – consider what else was going on around that time. In historical perspective, were there epidemics? Were there economic situations that set things up so that extended families lived together to support each other? After a death in the family, did children or grandchildren go home to settle an estate? The people we are researching for our family history - were people after all, like unto us. :-D
If you still have unfinished business with some family members who have gone on, Memorial Day might be a good opportunity to write a letter, which you won’t mail, but which you need to write. Take a deep breath, open your heart, open your mind, and open your letter. You will feel better, and it will help you in your resolve to live your life without regrets.
LDS Hymns: “Each Life That Touches Ours for Good”
Text: Karen Lynn Davidson, b. 1943. © 1985 IRI
Music: A. Laurence Lyon, b. 1934. © 1985 IRI