By Sharon Greenlee —

When you see or hear Memorial Day, what are the first visuals and words that pop into your mind?? I see the cemetery, the funeral, my mother’s grave. I hear my grandmother’s mournful crying, and I see and hear all of this through the eyes of the ten-year old who experienced it.

Before that time, Memorial Day meant American flags, and Mason jars filled with peonies placed on graves of long-past relatives that I knew only through stories.

I asked this same question of two friends who haven’t lost close loved ones yet.  Growing up in Minnesota, they both recalled that the cemetery sat next to the church in the small towns where they lived.  Their memories were not unpleasant. Memorial Day was a time for remembering soldiers who gave their lives for their country, placing flowers on graves and strolling curiously through rows of headstones, recalling familiar names such as Olson, Swenson and… Helga.

It’s obvious, isn’t it, that past memories and connections to a certain thought, place or idea can influence how one might conceptualize a place or a time?  You may guess by now that I am not particularly fond of visiting the cemetery and it didn’t change after losing two of our sons and two grandchildren.  In the same way, I’m not fond of layering guilt upon myself for not going there on Memorial Day, or on certain other holidays for that matter.

Maybe you relate to my story, or my friends’ story, or maybe you live far away and cannot physically be at the graveside of your loved ones this Memorial Day, or maybe you just have your own story.  Whatever the case, there are things one can do to honor the life and memory of loved ones without a cemetery visit.

I call it Decorating A Memory:

Find a lovely spot in nature or a cozy place at home and write a letter to your loved one(s).  Hear the response.  If you knew them well, you know exactly what they might say back to you.  Listen to them comfort you, for that is exactly what they would want to do.

Ask permission to place a lovely plant or tree in your public park, library or some other place of significance.  As you turn the soil, think of the person to whom this is dedicated. Think of the person’s smile and the things he or she might say right now.  Allow yourself to be held in the loving memory of this person’s life.

Think of your special person’s interests and things he or she loved to do. Browse your local bookstore, choose a ‘just right’ book and decide where it should go.  Maybe it belongs in your public library or it would fit best at a pre-school.  Inscribe the book and send it with love to its new recipients.

Write a letter to your children or grandchildren, or to someone who might like to know more about the person whose memory you are decorating.  Recall some fun, funny or memorable times that will allow the recipients to know more about this special person’s life.

Write a note of request to five people who knew and loved the person who died.  Ask them to share thoughts and memories about this person.  Assemble these vignettes and share them in some way.

Maybe these ideas will spark one of your own…and, if you do honor your loved one at the cemetery this Memorial Day, allow the experience to comfort you, knowing there are additional ways to pay tribute, decorate a memory and warm a heart, all at the same time.

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Sharon Greenlee

Sharon is a licensed counselor, author and consultant. For many years she has conducted seminars and workshops in all areas of personal growth, creativity, writing, stress reduction, grief, loss, change and life transitions. In the area of grief and loss she has provided staff development and grief after-care for hospital staff, schools, funeral directors, hospice staff and caregivers and various business groups. She conducts grief support groups and provides personal counsel for grieving adults and children. For many years her work as a hospice volunteer included support for bereaved children and their terminally ill mothers. Sharon’s book,” When Someone Dies”, Peachtree Publishing has been a source of comfort for many grieving children and adults. She is also the author of numerous articles. Recently moving from Wyoming to Fort Collins, CO, Sharon has a private counseling practice and teaches workshops, including grief and loss, for the Fort Collins Poudre Valley Hospital Aspen Club.

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