To some, Memorial Day is a perfect time to celebrate. For residents of Mount Vernon and elsewhere, the holiday can be seen as the unofficial start of summer, the last three-day weekend of spring, and an opportunity to officially fire up the barbecue and the lawnmower for the year if you haven’t done both tasks already.
But for many veterans or friends and family of veterans, including those receiving hospice care, Memorial Day represents a more serious time: an opportunity to honor those who have lost their lives defending our country.
At Above and Beyond Home Health Care and Hospice, we have many clients with military backgrounds. They might enjoy the fun and social part of Memorial Day, but they also make sure it’s important to pause and reflect on those who have made the ultimate sacrifices for their country.
In some cases, it’s personal: they may have a family member or someone close to them who died while in the military or later as the result of their military service.
This can include being killed in action or dying from medical conditions that may have been caused by experiences while serving. For instance, many Vietnam War veterans have been diagnosed with a variety of cancers and other severe health conditions due to how close they were to Agent Orange, a common material used in that war to remove brush in the jungle.
Though the military has always valued the service of those who died for our defense, in the last few years all branches have been working on additional ways to compensate veterans and their families who may have been affected by these situations.
Their actual service may have been years in the past, but they may still be dealing with what they experienced, physically or mentally.
Learning more about Memorial Day
Sometimes there’s confusion about Memorial Day and Veterans Day.
The differences are that Veterans Day, which takes place in the fall, commemorates anyone who has ever served their country. It was originally called Armistice Day to mark the end of World War I in 1918. But in the 1950s, the president expanded the scope to honor all veterans.
Memorial Day, on the other hand, is dedicated to those who have lost their lives in service. Its roots go back to the 1860s, following the Civil War.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, families in the north and south decided to create an occasion to recognize all those who fell during the war.
They created a holiday called Decoration Day and invited everyone to visit cemeteries to honor the fallen and decorate their graves or memorials with flags and flowers, including Waterloo, New York, and a ceremony in Charleston organized by freed slaves.
Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared the event should always be at the end of May since that particular time of the year was optimal for beautiful flowers blooming all over the country. The largest ceremony in that time frame was in Washington D.C. at Arlington National Cemetery.
In 1966, Decoration Day was changed to Memorial Day and in 1971 it was declared a federal holiday.
Today, Memorial Day is still celebrated, and people are encouraged to honor those who died and visit ceremonies if they are able. Although some public ceremonies had to be changed or even canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some people visited cemeteries individually.
Some Southern states still have separate holidays for Confederate dead.
If you are a caregiver of a client who is interested in honoring Memorial Day for themselves or others, there are a variety of ways to commemorate the occasion and make it special.
- Look for local ceremonies. Local veteran groups such as the American Legion or Veterans of Foreign War likely will organize some kind of public event during the weekend. They may even include pre-Memorial Day events like putting flags on veteran graves or cleaning local cemeteries prior to the ceremony. All of these can be good ways to do your part. If celebrations are canceled for health reasons, consider visiting or taking your client to visit.
- Observe the Moment of Remembrance. All of the celebrations have included a minute to pause, reflect and honor at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day. This can be done from anywhere, even by someone who isn’t able to leave their home.
- Give him or her a card. If they are veterans themselves, thank them for their service. If they have a family member or loved one who has passed away, include a note saying you’re thinking about them.
- Create a card program. Giving one card is great but you can also easily expand to others thanking them for their service. You can send them to a local veteran home or a veterans organization in your area. Or you can hand-deliver them to veterans in your neighborhood. Even if the day is for the fallen, survivors also like to be recognized for their service.