Memorial Day is a time each year when we pause to remember those who laid down their lives for family, friends, and freedom. One week after the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “Those who long enjoy such privileges that we enjoy forget in time that others have died to win them.” Freedom is never really free; it is almost always bought with the blood of patriots.
Arlington National Cemetery is a stark reminder of this. I have been to Washington D.C. many times over the years, but it was not until four years ago that I visited Arlington National Cemetery. In some ways it impacted me more than all the other wonderful sights in our nation’s capital. The best way I could describe it was that I literally felt like I was standing on hallowed ground.
As a pastor, I’ve been to many cemeteries and I have conducted many funerals over the years. I consider walking a family through the grief of losing a loved one a sacred privilege. To prepare for the service, I always meet with the immediate family, spouse, parents, siblings and sometimes even grandchildren and I ask them two questions…
|1st – What are you going to miss the most?
2nd – What are you going to miss the least?
They are not just random questions, they have purpose. They are meant to stir up memories of the loved one as experienced by a variety of people who interacted with them. The different perspectives always amaze me. It affords me opportunity to reaffirm positive experiences and to facilitate forgiveness if needed for past offenses. I jot down notes that I will then use to shape the service (or memorial) and the end result is most often a well-balanced and accurate picture of the person’s life. I know I have done my job well when people comment that I really “captured” their loved one.
The goal of the service is to celebrate someone’s life and help the family with closure so they can move forward. I have to say that the process of meeting with the family is challenging but it is what I enjoy most. Life is often a mixed bag of victories and failures, wonderful memories, and regrets. Processing them all is part of a healthy grieving process. One illustration I have found to be helpful with family is to hold up a rose using it to represent the person’s life and say… “Their life was like this ROSE. I can choose to focus on the THORNS that bring pain or on the beautiful FLOWER that brings joy.”
As we observe Memorial Day Weekend, we can apply the same process to America. We are far from perfect. To be sure, our history is also a mixed bag of victories and failures, wonderful memories, and regrets, and we have to process them all together.
This weekend, while we acknowledge that there are thorns, let us not cancel out the beauty of our history, the freedom it has stood for, and the blood of the patriots who gave their lives for that freedom.
For Faith, Family and Freedom in RI,
Chairman, Board of Directors – Rhode Island