"It is singular how soon we lose the impression of what ceases to be constantly before us. A year impairs, a luster obliterates. There is little distinct left without an effort of memory, then indeed the lights are rekindled for a moment - but who can be sure that the Imagination is not the torch-bearer?" ~Lord ByronIn the midst of all of the BBQ's, intoxicated buffonery and road trips, Memorial Day is time set aside in a world that often moves too fast, for those of us fortunate enough to still be among the living to remember those who has ceased to exist as we do. For my family, Memorial Day is a time to remember how the dead lived. We share stories and rejoice in lives that made ours richer. We exchange our sweetest memories like children sharing a melon in the middle of summer, happy for the company.
Personally speaking, it was restorative to share stories about my father with my family this weekend. His loss is easily one of the greatest in my life, but when I talk about him with others that knew him, I feel his presence. I can hear his laugh when my Mom shares a story about early in their marriage when she was coaxed by him to assist on the farm by guarding an impossibly high gate used to keep hogs in a particular pen while he and his brothers tagged their ears (so if they were to get loose, they could be returned.) Somehow, the hogs became startled and made a beeline for her, causing her to abandon her post and somehow jump a fence that was double her height. When she smiles in the telling of this account of her younger years with my father, I can feel the warmth of a love that lasted a lifetime. When I close my eyes I can see him taking her hand and saying he owed his life to her, that she had been his entire world. My Pop's was always the storyteller in the family until his passing. My mother has now taken up the tradition and tells them in such an animated and passionate way, that I just know my Pop's would be proud. It was a small gathering that we had at my mothers house this weekend, and I was the only one of her children that could make it, but we were a group rich in memory and love. When my mother blessed our meal, her voice cracked when she expressed her gratitude to have everyone gathered at her home and I could practically hear my Pops whisper "You did good, sis."While I didn't move terribly far away from those mountains I called home for nearly 20 years, I might as well have moved to another planet when it comes to tradition. You don't see as many people gathering to decorate cemeteries, or reaching out to one another to remember their dead. Death is clinical and formal. Death is a severing thing, cold and insurmountable. The dead are gone, unreachable, disconnected. People are always moving forward, believing that strength is forgetting. This is alien to me. The dead are guides to those of us raised a little further South (or who have been raised in homes by those who have). My Dad always paid his respect to members of our family and community that had passed on. He always sent flowers, he always shared stories, he always visited grieving family members. Always. When I was younger, I didn't understand why we always had to pack up and go to what felt like every funeral in our small town. I didn't like the heaviness and grief. Why would a person want to be spend their weekend shouldering someone else's pain? Did he like having a shirt that doubled as a handkerchief? Now that I'm older, I see that he was alleviating some of the heaviness and that his XXL heart needed to have time to grieve every life that he no longer got to share. He always brought kind words and funny stories with him to any funeral. Even in the most tragic of situations, he had a way of lightening the mood and giving the families a minute to breathe in air not entirely saturated with loss. I suppose all this rambling is my way of taking that breath. Visiting his grave with Mom this weekend was tough, in spite of the beautiful weather and the humbling beauty of his final resting place (imagine the Shire and this is pretty darn close to what the memorial garden AKA cemetery, looks like.) Spending time with Mom, my brother and his wife and my Aunt and Uncle and really reminiscing was comforting in a way that you can't describe to someone who see's death as a medical term instead of a spiritual passage. I don't want death to be a wall that locks him away from me. Talking about him doesn't hurt, it a balm that soothes. It encourages his memory to live, strong and tall in my heart and mind. When my family gathers and the stories about him begin to flow, he is there, once again providing comfort, joy and a commitment to family. Memorial Day is no longer just another paid holiday for me.