Memorial Day is “celebrated” on May 27th of this year. I put celebrated in quotes because of the meaning of that word. We celebrate birthdays but as a rule, we do not celebrate death days. A memorial is a remembrance of death. We might say, at such a memorial gathering, that those present are celebrating the person’s life, not their death,
yet it is because of the death that the memorial service is taking place.
It is my contention that death can well be the start of something great, unlike birth, that can often be the start of any number of trials, tribulations, pains, sufferings, and other assorted would-be problems or miseries. (But it can also be the start of a marvelous and joyful adventure as well!) And no, I am not at all advocating for death or saying that it is a wonderful thing that we should all look forward to; however, to know that there is something beyond death that can ease the pain in our hearts and give us hope to see our loved ones again can be extremely important to most of us.
But if I may take up a bit of space to comment on what I mean, it’s that death is only a word to mark the moment of passing from this side of life to the other side. For those who don’t believe in life after death, I guess that the prevailing belief would be some version of simple bodily deterioration back to the earth, or maybe even annihilation, since where could one go and what could one do if nothing exists beyond “death”? However, even annihilation (meaning that not only is there nothing beyond life, but all aspects of that life are wiped out completely, as though that person never lived, so
there’s nothing to go on to anyway) would require an “Annihilator” to facilitate the annihilation.
Now here’s the thing: Deterioration (decay and such) will happen to all if we are not cremated. The human body was not made to last intact forever. We all expect that. No casket — no matter how expensive or insulated against the elements — can keep the body from so-called deterioration. Even mummies will not stay as intact as the body was
Getting back to what happens after death; first, we must acknowledge that it is the passing away of the life as we know it in that person.
While some cultures and customs do celebrate death, and we can — at some point — feel good about what comes after death, at that moment of the death of a loved one, or upon getting word that someone we cared about has died and we will never get to see them in this life again,
we can feel very devastated — it can be very traumatic to us, the living. And we really don’t want to think about the wonders of death at a time like that.
So consider how it might feel if, on the anniversary of that death, someone said to you, “Happy Anniversary on the death of your [fill in the blank for the person who died]. We really do not want to hear the word “happy” in connection with the death of our loved one.
It shouldn’t matter if the anniversary of the death is of your loved one, the loved one of another, or absolute strangers to you, such as all those who gave their lives as part of their “job” in protecting our freedoms. We honor all those who once wore the uniform and did not make it home alive. The day is called Memorial Day because we memorialize them in our hearts, our minds, and our spirits. We do not erect statues to everyone who died in any way connected to protecting our freedoms. Their memorial is their tombstone or their grave marker.
Some cannot even be named because they cannot be identified, but such unknown service members are remembered at large, along with all their compadres, who also died for the same cause.
Whether anyone believes in the cause of the military or not, they no doubt believe in freedom, and if their personal freedom was at stake, they would no doubt be relieved if not even happy to accept the services of those who have agreed to be part of that freedom-securing “machine.”
When we hear of those who died in service to our country, to protect our freedoms, most of us will feel a sense of sadness for their loss, but also some kind of thankfulness for the sacrifice they made to allow us to keep our way of life. We will probably be glad that it wasn’t our loved ones who had to die — but those who did die were someone’s loved ones, and they will likely mourn them for the rest of their lives.
Memorial Day is a day for mourning but in a thankfulness kind of way, kind of like remembering that someone — or many someones — cared enough about us and our way of life to not let us be taken over by those who would trample on our freedoms. Thank them in your hearts and in your minds, and maybe in your actions—by not making it a day of picnics or barbecues or shopping only, mindless of all they did for you so you could continue to “celebrate” in your own way, in the Land of the Free.
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Maramis Choufani is the Managing Editor of the Las Vegas Tribune. She writes a weekly column in this newspaper. To contact Maramis, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.