God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted. [Matthew 5:4 (NLT)]
Many of the younger generation don’t know that today’s Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day and originated in the years following the Civil War. With more than 600,000 dead from that war, the country’s first national cemeteries were established. In spring, communities began holding tributes to the fallen soldiers by reciting prayers and decorating their graves with flowers. People continue to decorate graves with flowers and other memorabilia, not just on Memorial Day, but throughout the year. Although I place flowers on my father-in-law’s grave, I do it only because those flowers are important to my mother-in-law. The flowers are placed to honor a living woman, not her dead husband. I want no flowers on my grave; then again, I want no grave. I do, however, want to be remembered.
Some forty years ago, we attended a Celebration of Life for my uncle. A speaker shared a quotation that, even with Google, I have been unable to find. Although the exact wording is forgotten, the gist of the quote has stuck with me: “When you’re in a beautiful place, think of me so that I can share it with you!” When we attend the symphony, I often think of my Uncle Wayne and how much he would have enjoyed hearing the violins and reading the program notes. When I see a beautiful rose garden, read a good novel or anything by C.S. Lewis, I remember my mother and how much she would have appreciated them. When schussing down a great run or enjoying some après ski fun, I think of how my brother would have delighted in my day on the mountain. Watching men fishing in a mountain stream or hunters in their camouflage brings to mind my father and what an avid fisherman and hunter he was. When I hear my son discussing business with his dad, I picture his Grandpa J who would have loved being part of that conversation. When my grands romp and play, I remember their three great-grandparents who never knew them; I can almost see the smiles that would be on their faces were they with us still. Do their spirits come and share these moments with me? Probably not; nevertheless, those I’ve loved are kept alive in my heart with these memories. Rather than decorating their graves, I have carried them forward into an unrealized future. When the time comes, I hope my loved ones will remember me whenever they come upon a field of wildflowers or a butterfly, take a walk in the swamp, hike the Rockies, or ski in deep power. Maybe they’ll even yell a “Ye-haw!” for me.
God promises to comfort us in our mourning. Knowing our loved ones (those who were saved) are with God in heaven does bring us consolation as we mourn. In actuality, in spite of our faith and their salvation, I think the memories of our loved ones are really what get us through the day and ease our sorrow. Our memories are the way God heals our broken hearts. As for decorating graves—we should send flowers to the living while they can still enjoy them. Smiles shared with our loved ones today will be far more welcome than tears at their gravesides. As for flattering eulogies, perhaps those words of admiration should be spoken to the person rather than about him at some later date.
Thank you, God, for the gift of memory. It brings us comfort in our time of sorrow and keeps our loved ones alive in our hearts.
Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal. [From a headstone in Ireland]
Those we love remain with us for love itself lives on, and cherished memories never fade because a loved one’s gone. Those we love can never be more than a thought apart, far as long as there is memory, they’ll live on in the heart. [Mary Alice Ramish]