The last Monday in May is known as Memorial Day in the United States. Originally called Decoration Day, it was started in 1868 as a way to remember the Civil War dead among Union soldiers. (The Confederates had their own day as well.) By the 20th century, Union and Confederate holidays were merged into Memorial Day to remember all the war dead.
But it seems to me that most Americans who do visit cemeteries remember all dead, military or not. My brother died on the last day of May (May 31, 2006.) Memorial Day is always so close to the date of his death that it feels like the anniversary of his death. He was killed instantly when his vehicle over-turned on the freeway, crushing his head.
On the first Memorial Day after his death, I wanted to decorate his grave, but it just didn’t seem right to put flowers on his grave. He’s a guy, and guys don’t desire flowers. My sister had died in Oct 1998, and it seemed perfectly fine to put flowers on her grave, but not my brother’s grave.
We’re both huge sports fans. Growing up in New England, we loved the Boston Red Sox, Celtics, Bruins, and New England Patriots. I found a Red Sox hat at Walmart for $5, and a new tradition was born. Rather than flowers, I put a Red Sox hat on his grave. That first year, I also printed out some of the major sports stories about Boston, as well as Utah Jazz teams. My brother was a sportscaster, and when I learned former Celtic Dennis Johnson died a few months after my brother, I’m sure he went to interview Dennis. I’m sure he has interviewed Ted Williams too.
I talked with my sister’s widower and told him that I put a Red Sox hat on my brother’s grave; he told me I should do that for my sister’s grave too. He said she gets enough flowers. She wasn’t quite the sports fan that my brother was, but I’ve decided this is my grave decorating tradition.
Prior to my sister’s death, I had no Memorial Day traditions. I was surprised that my wife’s family has always visited graves of grandparents and uncles who have passed on, and she often runs into family members at the cemetery, and they have an impromptu family reunion. I live in Utah County now. My sister is buried in Davis County (an hour’s drive), and my brother is another 20 minutes north in Weber County. When I lived in Davis County, it was much easier to visit my sister’s grave, and I would often jog through the cemetery to visit. Now it takes much more effort. Maybe that’s why my family never did anything for Memorial Day. My dad is from New Jersey, mom is from Idaho, so going to cemeteries was just too hard.
Do you have any Memorial Day traditions?