Guest Op-Ed: Why Did Memorial Day Change?

Dr. Glenn Mollette

Decoration Day was observed on May 30th from 1868 to 1970 to decorate the graves and honor those dying in military service for our country. In 1971 Congress officially made the last Monday in May Memorial Day.

On this day, Americans take time to pay respect and decorate the graves of our military service Americans who died to keep America free. Because of them we can travel the country, have picnics, go to ballgames and more.

For me, Memorial Day has changed. Memorial weekend was a big time of family gathering. I can still remember Mamaw and Grandpa, all nine of their children and the grandchildren gathering to eat, play, talk and laugh. But then Mamaw and Grandpa died and the reunions changed. One by one the siblings passed away.  Today, all nine of them and their spouses are gone.

The grandchildren are now passing away. This is my generation.   As I begin to think of their names it’s a surprising number. All five of my dad’s brothers and sister are gone. Throughout the years I’ve attended too many funerals.  This includes my wife of 27 years and our little stillborn baby. Memorial Day has changed. So many people I celebrated the day with are gone. It would be impossible for me to visit all the graves of all these dear people. They are scattered out between Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia and other states.

When Memorial Day comes, I try my best to make the six-hour trip to decorate my deceased wife’s grave. Carole, who I married 17 years ago has deceased parents who are buried three hours away from where we live. It’s never easy. There are flowers to buy. The drive is not easy and we have those who are alive we want to visit. It’s makes us feel bad that we don’t have hours to go and spend at the cemetery and respect those we loved.

Sadly, there are so many forgotten graves of loved ones and American soldiers. The older we get the number of deceased people we know can become more than the living we know.

Do the best you can. This is all any human being can ever do. There are graves you know you must attend to and others you will have to trust to other family members or friends.

While we are trying to celebrate Memorial Day the right way, please continue to celebrate the living people in your life.  There is a story in the Bible where a friend of Jesus anointed him with expensive ointment while they were having dinner. It was her way of celebrating him and what he meant to her. Try to find ways to anoint people in your life who are meaningful to you. Buy them flowers now if you can afford them.  I hate to say it but it’s true – dead noses smell no roses.

I’ve always tried to buy flowers for those I love while they can enjoy them. It may not be flowers but maybe it could be a nice smile. A word of thanks or praise for a person in your life would be meaningful.  One way you might make Memorial Day meaningful is celebrating those people you have in your life today because, as we know, it won’t last long.

Back in February, my brother-in-law Harold was very sick and I knew his time was limited. My wife and I agreed we needed to go and visit with him. We had a good visit and a good talk. When I left him that day and we said goodbye to each other, I felt that it was truly goodbye at least for this life. He died just a couple of weeks later.

Memorial Day has changed for most of us. However, try to make a good memory or two with those people who are still alive in your life. What you remember about those who have gone on is what you enjoyed while they were living.

This Memorial Day weekend, be very safe and take time to enjoy the living.

Glenn Mollette is the publisher of Newburgh Press, Liberty Torch and various other publishing imprints; a national columnist –  American Issues and Common Sense opinions, analysis, stories and features appear each week In over 500 newspapers, websites and blogs across the United States.

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