Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start of summer -- a time for cookouts and picnics, parades and sales. Many people extend their celebration to four-day weekends and head off to the beach or the country to have fun.
But that's not the original intention of Memorial Day, which takes place this year on May 25. This federal holiday, originally named Decoration Day to honor those who fought and died in the Civil War, is the most solemn of national holidays because it commemorates those who died while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.
And while many families will be grilling and swimming this weekend, we all ought to pause to remember the many families, especially the children, who have lost loved ones while serving in the military.
Loss is difficult enough for adults, but for children, it can be even more frightening and mysterious. Thankfully, there are support organizations to help families with grieving children. One of these, TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors), has assisted more than 50,000 surviving military family members since 1995. This weekend, TAPS is holding its 21st Annual TAPS National Military Survivor Seminar and Good Grief Camp for Young Survivors. The emphasis of the weekend is on "hope and healing and on remembering the love and celebrating the lives" of those who are no longer here.
A child's understanding of death varies according to his/her age. Younger children can best express their feelings about loss through art, music, and play. Older children also express their feelings through art, music, and writing, and have the benefit of more understanding and a richer vocabulary to discuss their feelings.
Whatever the age of your child, there are many ways that children of all ages can remember the love and celebrate the lives of loved ones on Memorial Day weekend and every day. Here are a few:
1. Have your child make a memory box in which he or she puts in items that remind him/her of their loved one. These could be anything, e.g. cards from a favorite card game, puzzle pieces, ticket stubs, greeting or postcards, letters, pictures, buttons, medals, etc.
2. Ask your child to choose photos to put in a memory album. Ask why they are being chosen. Help him/her write captions.
3. Encourage your child to write a letter or a poem or dictate one to you (depending on age) about the loved one.
4. Invite your child to draw a picture that evokes special memories of the loved one.
5. Watch family videos together that show happy times.
6. Plant a tree, a flower or a garden in memory of the loved one.
7. Wear the loved one's favorite color.
8. Take a walk and share favorite stories about the loved one.
9. Enjoy the loved one's favorite foods together and talk about it.
10. Encourage your child to perform an act of kindness or charity in memory of the loved one.
After Meryl Ain lost both her father and mother within a year-and-a-half, she decided to research how others keep alive the memories of their loved ones. The Living Memories Project: Legacies That Last, by Meryl Ain, Arthur M. Fischman and Stewart Ain, was published by Little Miami Publishing Company in 2014. It received a Silver Medal in the 2014 Living Now Book Awards. Through the stories of 32 people, it shows how grief can be transformed into meaningful action and living legacies. Dr. Ain is currently putting the finishing touches on a children's book about keeping memories alive. She and her coauthors have also begun work on a sequel to The Living Memories Project.
The Living Memories Project Website: http://thelivingmemoriesproject.com
Twitter: @LivMemoriesProj @DrMerylAin