May 25, 2020
Dear St. Paul’s Family,
My comfort with cemeteries dates back to Memorial Day experiences growing up as a child near Pittsburgh, PA. There was an order, a kind of liturgy to the day. We would go to the Memorial Day parade, which was the exact opposite of a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day extravaganza. These parades were more somber, with the color guard leading the way, followed by Veterans of Foreign Wars, with the drum and bugle corps bringing up the rear. Of course along the route to the cemetery, there was lots of flag waving, clapping and cheers.
Our family then visited three different cemeteries, within 20 minutes of each other, to clean up the gravesites of all our dear departed, plant fresh geraniums at the base of the headstones, and then stand in silence at each site for a few moments. I suppose that the adults were praying or remembering. I don’t recall any tears being shed. Perhaps they’d been shed years earlier. I never had the chance to meet any of these folks, and I felt as if I’d missed out on some amazing relatives. My own personal acquaintance with the death of loved ones came later.
We always ended at Sewickley Cemetery where the ritual was repeated, followed by a picnic lunch, usually cream cheese and olive sandwiches, Wise potato chips, grapes, cookies and iced tea.
Although Memorial Day is a time to honor and mourn those who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces, the graves of all veterans were decorated with flags, including that of my grandfather Albrecht who served in the trenches in France, where he suffered permanent lung damage from mustard gas in the War to End All Wars (How I wish that were so). My grandmother referred to the day as Decoration Day. The name made some sort of logical sense to my young mind. We decorated the house for certain holidays, and graves for this holiday.
Death is hard anytime, and death in the midst of war, especially on the battlefield is horrendous. One of my ancestors died in a battle outside of Valley Forge during the Revolutionary War, and another died in the Battle of Gettysburg. These were young men who died far from home, without the comfort of family. Their families had to live with that for the rest of their lives, their own sort of emotional death.
In this season, people are going through the same, being felled without the comfort of family from a much more insidious foe. And an alarming number of others are dying at their own hands, overwhelmed by suffering.
According to history.com, a national moment of silence is to be observed each Memorial Day at 3:00 pm. local time. Somehow, the noise of all the picnics, parties, ball games, frolicking in the community pool or at the beach, that moment of silence has been drowned out. The Psalmist says, “Be still, and know that I am God,” (Psalm 46:10). Perhaps today, at 3:00 pm, we can take a moment of silence to remember those who have died while serving in the Armed Forces, as well as those who are dying in battles, alone but for God.
Be safe this Memorial Day! Your life matters, and so do the lives around you! ~ Anne