Every Memorial Day I am flooded with memories of going to the cemetery in McPherson, Kansas with my parents to decorate the graves of the “old people”. I know this sounds odd, but I’m pretty sure Memorial Day was my Dad’s favorite holiday. He had served in WWII, so the American flags lining the roads and decorating the veterans’ graves were especially meaningful to him.
Dad loved hot pink peonies. We’d buy them by the bucketful and then clip the stems short and divide them into a variety of jelly jars wrapped in foil. Dad always looked forward to visiting with the relatives who came from out of town. He spent a little time at each of his parents’ graves and the graves of various relatives reflecting on who they’d been and what they had meant to him when they were alive. Then he’d dig a little hole with a garden spade and wedge the jar into the ground so the flowers wouldn’t tip over.
I don’t think I missed spending many Memorial Day weekends with my parents during their lifetime. All of my memories have melded into one beautiful, warm sunny day. If I close my eyes, I can still smell the freshly mown grass and I can see the flamboyant petals of the bright pink peonies.
It occurs to me that my dad probably believed in the “here and now” more than in the “hereafter”. His little private ceremony of respect and reflection at the graves was probably his way of making sure the memory of each person stayed alive.
Today we’ve put out our flag in honor of all veterans, and I’m having my own little celebration of remembrance. Dad died in 1999. It took a long time to get past the memory of what he was like during his long illness, but when I think of him now I recall his beautiful brown eyes and how his whole body shook when he laughed. Dad was a good man. He loved my mother. He loved all of us kids. I remember how much fun he and I had playing golf together. But mostly, I remember how much he loved the farm and how much he enjoyed just being alive. He taught me a profound appreciation of nature and how to find joy in my work. Of course, being a farmer, he also taught me to be optimistic regardless of my circumstances.
If you are in the middle of caring for someone who is approaching the end of his/her life, I hope you will take comfort in knowing that it will come to an end. Their suffering (and yours) will stop. You will go through a period of mourning, and then one day you will wake up and realize that your memories are starting to evoke more pleasure than sadness or regret.