Dear Civilian Friend,
I have to tell you something about Memorial Day. You’re doing it wrong.
Now don’t get upset - I know you have big plans. I’ve seen your patriotic barbecue board on Pinterest, and that flag cake really is spiffy. But the thing is, Memorial Day isn’t about cake. Or barbecue. Or the start of summer. Or the day off work.
It’s a day of mourning.
Now, I know you get that in the broader sense, because you tear up at the same welcome home videos I do and I know your heart is in your throat every time you hear about lives lost in the line of duty. But we need to talk about what it means in real life, and what you actually do with that knowledge. Especially on Memorial Day.
Because you need to stop tagging every veteran you know on Facebook and wishing them a “Happy Memorial Day.”
Let me break this down for you.
Tonight I will go to sleep next to my service member, and tomorrow I’ll get to wake up with him, too. Tomorrow I get to be annoyed by the shoes he leaves by the stairs that I inevitably trip on, the drips of coffee on the counter after he makes his cup, and the way he never manages to actually get the kids to make their beds when they wake up in the morning. I get to see the way he comforts our son when he skins his knee and our daughter when she’s tired and cranky. I get to experience that why-I-married-you look at some point in the evening, and I get to give it right back.
I am incredibly lucky.
But as a military spouse, I have friends who aren’t so lucky.
They’d do pretty much anything to be able to get into a fight with their spouse again. They haven’t made eyes at their husbands in far too long. Their spouses haven’t showered their children with the kisses and hugs those kids desperately need. And on Monday morning - just like today, tomorrow, and the day after that, they won’t wake up to their partner’s weight in bed.
They’ll wake up to an emptiness you and I just don’t know.
Enter Memorial Day.
For these friends, every day is Memorial Day. But on this day, this one day every year, you and I are supposed to put on our empathy hats and try to be there for them.
Now, hear me out. This doesn’t mean you can’t have a big barbecue. After all, many of our friends are doing the same. You can have a big, patriotic barbecue, that awesome flag cake, firecrackers, smiles, and laughter. Just do all of that while also taking a moment to remember.
Host that barbecue in style. Enjoy the laughter and light you get when everyone you love is around you, but when you sit down at the table, set a place for the service member who didn’t make it home. Honor that emptiness. Remember that life.
When you raise your glass to toast, don’t just welcome the start of summer. Say a word for the spouse who is sitting at the head of her table and wishing her partner was there instead. Pledge to be there for that family, and find a way to make that promise true.
When you put your children down for the night, make sure you tell them how much you love them, and how it’s their job to reflect that love to all the children around them, especially those who need a friend or some extra smiles.
But when 3 p.m. local time rolls around, stop what the festivities. Honor our national moment of silence, and fill that time with your gratitude, your thanks, your praise, and your commitment to remember. It’s easier than you think.
You can do all of that and enjoy your red, white, and blue picnic, too. Just please - don’t tag every veteran you know on Facebook. That’s what Veteran’s Day is for.
Memorial Day is all about remembering. Promise to never forget.
Love, Your Military Spouse Friend