“Happy” Memorial Day and Why It Shouldn’t Be Said

This is written by a Gold Star Wife, Deb Petty, who encouraged others to share. I hope you will take her words to heart.

Every year at this time I fight with the idea that people tell me “Happy Memorial Day”. People that know me, know what Ive gone through… still say it to me. Family still says it. For the rest who say it, do you think that there is anything “happy” at all about remembering all those who have died for this country? I blog about this every year and I don’t think there will ever be a year that I don’t. When I hear those three words my skin crawls.

“Happy Memorial Day”…it seems to just flow off the tongues of those around us. As though Memorial Day is just any other “holiday” to be celebrated with joy and happiness. When someone says “Happy Memorial Day” what exactly are they so “happy” about?

Maybe its the extra 20% or 30% they will get off beach towels at Macy’s, or maybe it’s the fact that they are off work, cooking out and not paying any attention to why they are really off work. Do these “happy” people take any time during their day off to share a moment thinking of those who paid the ultimate price for them to be off work and cooking out, or shopping “the big sale”??

Do people take the time to teach and show their children the importance of Memorial Day? Do they take them to a National Cemetery and show them all the lives that have been lost, tell them what that means for those who are still alive? Do they educate their children to show respect to those who have fallen for all the freedoms we take for granted every damn day? Do they just take a moment, a simple moment in their day to show that they care, or understand what the day is about?

My first Memorial Day I was not willing to admit that it had anything to do with Chris. We had always gone and placed flags at grave sites on this day. My first Memorial Day I did the same thing with Oliver and Owen in tow. But on that first one, there were more deaths. A CPT Alex Funkhouser was killed while in the line of duty. I knew that all that I had been feeling since January 5, his wife would now feel too. My heart broke for I knew every Memorial Day she would have a double heart wrenching reminder of her husband’s death.

Little did I know that this wife, now a new widow like me would become one of my best friends. Little did I know that she had two girls close to my two boys’ age. Little did I know that our lives ran in such a parallel manner.

My second Memorial Day I took the boys and we went to Virginia to see Chris’ mom. I wanted to spend this Memorial Day with Chris at Arlington. I wanted the boys to see that they were not only not alone; but that they could still be near their father. As that day went on there were more cameras taking pictures of them by the Chris’ grave (one made it to the front page of the Washington Post the next day).

There were families that just stood there, paying their respects and as the tears flowed down their cheeks they watched Oliver fix a flag by Chris’ grave. They watched Owen pluck the heads of the flowers there and they watched a mother with tears in her eyes as she realized this was her reality, this was her life. Watching her two boys “play” with or by their father…the only way they ever would be able to.

As I looked around and saw their faces, their tears and their heads shaking back and forth; I realized that yes there are those out there that don’t say “Happy Memorial Day”, they come to Arlington to pay their respects to OUR fallen. They come to be with those who have paid the ultimate and spend time with their families.

There was a father there, in uniform and beside him was his little son in BDUs. They stood at attention as TAPS played. I was so taken by this that I asked him why he does this with his son and he said “death is a part of life, death for your country is going beyond what life can offer”. He continued “I want my son to realize what this day is for. Not just a day off school or work, I want him to understand and respect the magnitude of what and who and why we have set this day aside to honor and remember those who have died in combat”.

I burst into tears, gave him a big hug and as I let go of him he and his son saluted the boys and I and then went to salute Chris. Gosh I have tears running down my face typing this. I have never seen the true meaning in any one person’s eyes of what Memorial Day means to them than that of those eyes that day.

So I ask that if you don’t know anyone who has been affected by a war death, to please at least teach your children what Memorial Day is for. Take them to a National Cemetery and place a few flags, go on and Google Memorial Day, teach them about what this day means. This is just a small thing to do, to teach your kids what this country is about, teach them why we need to stand up for it, love it, and protect it. That is the BEST way to honor our fallen, those who fought and died for what they believed in.

For those families that struggle everyday without their loved one, this is a small gesture for them too. It tells us that our loved one, did not die in vain. If you do know someone who has lost someone to a war, this one or any previous, please take the time to just tell them you are thinking about them, you are grateful and you love them.

But please don’t say “Happy Memorial Day” to them…for us there is nothing “happy” about it.

To all my widsters that might read this, know that on Memorial Day, your Anniversaries and every day of the year, I think of OUR HEROES! I think about your families, your pain, your hearts, your children and your happiness. For those who have lost a family member to previous wars, my heart and my thoughts are always with you too. Thank you for your loved ones’ service to our great nation, I am forever in their debt for their sacrifice.

May this Memorial Day bring you comfort in knowing that our Great Nation acknowledges and says “Thank You” for the sacrifice OURS and THEIR HEROES have made for us and them!

May we raise a glass to OUR HEROES! We love you…We miss you…We are proud of you….We are forever YOURS!

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Stacey Abler
Stacey's husband joined the Army in 2003 and was medically retired after four deployments. She enjoys sharing her experiences and expertise around Army life while continuing to support Army spouses and families in their military journey.

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