by Jennifer Duncan
When Memorial Day draws near, I feel a rush of sentiment that pulls me to cemeteries. I remember visiting cemeteries with my parents and hearing the stories…about the young cousin who was killed in a car accident, about my great grandfather who died trying to protect his grandchildren in a tornado, about those who served in war time. I associated the cemeteries with family pride and loyalty, with character qualities I wanted to emulate. I associated the cemeteries with love and faith.
When I was a little girl, Memorial Day was a really big deal. Granted, one of the reasons for this for our family, was that my granddad owned the monument sales business in my parents’ hometown, and he had sandblasted, polished and sold most of the monuments in the cemetery. Memorial Day was a huge “deadline” day for him, and also a “P.R.” opportunity. But aside from that, the holiday was a more treasured community event for everybody back then, than it is today.
Part of the reason the day is not the community social event it used to be, is the introduction of the “Monday holiday.” No one seems to know exactly which day surrounding May 31st is truly THE day when we are all going to the cemeteries. Too much flexibility about when to celebrate has diluted the whole experience!
Today, to most young adults, Memorial Day just marks the beginning of summer, with an extra day off work and a nice barbecue with the family. It’s just the day the swimming pools open! Though the day has retained some of its patriotic significance, and this has even spiked a bit in recent years, it seems that very few families are continuing the practice of decorating the graves of loved ones.
I would suggest that this is an emphasis worth intentionally preserving. Setting aside time on, or around, that day is an opportunity to teach children to honor their ancestry. It’s a time when we can tell the children stories of family history, the character qualities of ancestors…some that we want to treasure as positive examples, and some that we want to avoid!
We can teach children that they are part of a family legacy, or the builders of a new legacy, and help give them a sense of pride in who they are. We can also teach children pride in being Americans, and remind them of the privileges and freedoms for which many in these cemeteries died.
I would urge you to teach your children the value of remembering, and being grateful, by taking them to the cemetery on Memorial Day…or at least taking them on a verbal journey, honoring those who are part of their heritage. Teach them that our hearts are tied, firmly and lovingly, to those who have gone before.
“Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.” Deuteronomy 4:9
Jennifer is a graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University and Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. She is mom to two grown (twin) sons, two wonderful daughters-in-law and four granddaughters. Her late husband, John, pastored two churches in Barry County, Missouri, and one in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Jennifer serves in teaching, music and lay counseling through her church, Arnhart Baptist Church, Purdy, Missouri. She also enjoys leading retreats and Bible studies for women.