It’s that time of year, again. It’s the weekend before Memorial Day in the U.S. and was recently Victoria Day in Canada. It means an extra-long weekend filled with sun, friends/family, grilling, and amazing discounts at the local big box stores. It’s the unofficial inauguration of summer. And another strange phenomenon happens in my family around Memorial Day. My husband, Justin, and I (along with other veterans we know) will sometimes receive verbal and social media messages that read, “Thank you for your service.” These thanks cause Justin to shake his head and reply, “I’m actually still alive, but you’re welcome?” Of course, we appreciate being thanked for our service, but it feels out of place on Memorial Day, as it is a day to memorialize these who have died while serving in the military or as first responders. Justin, like many other veterans, knows names of comrades who died while deployed, can still see their faces, feel the dirt and sand in his boots, and smell the burning diesel. Rather than being thanked on Memorial Day, we veterans want to join with everyone else to remember and grieve our lost friends.
We remember those who had a bright future, who were young and healthy, but died while serving their country. We remember lives that were ended too soon at the hands of terrorists. We remember lives that ended too soon as result of horrible tactical mistakes. We remember the lives that were lost at their own hands as the demands of military life coupled with many other factors felt like it was too painful to go on living. We remember those that were left behind—friends and family who are grieving, who feel abandoned and unknown in their grief by their church and community.
As chaplains how can we help our churches and organizations better understand how to love and bring the presence of God into the lives of the family and friends as they struggle with the tragedy of a life lost too early? As chaplains, can we help the churches and organizations where we worship and work remember in such a way that honors those who served, while not necessarily glorifying questionable political moves that may have put those lives in danger? We deal with important questions like these almost every day, as we acknowledge life, death and hope, as we enact rituals and work to create sacred space in the midst of grief and celebration. Here are some simple steps that we can take during our lives—not just on Memorial Day.
- Hear the scared stories and sharing our/their stories (with permission) in our workplaces and churches.
- Ensure that our worship services contain meaningful liturgy that reflects the grief and memory, and honor due to the people who lost their lives too soon.
- Reflect on our own grief over lives that ended too soon.