United by Our Grief: Memorial Day 2021 - Imagine NJ

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United by Our Grief: Memorial Day 2021

By, Connie Palmer, Imagine Clinical Training Director

My father, an Army Colonel, who served during the Korean War, always spoke at Memorial Day events in my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio.  It was a day where we flew the flag outside of our home.  For my dad, who never talked about it, Memorial Day was a day full of grief. 

This year, how will we remember those who died in the service of our country?  How will honor the over 11,000 COVID deaths in veteran’s homes around the country?  How will we remember those who have died this year in service to our country when Memorial Day parades have been cancelled in many of our towns? 

I think the best way to honor this Memorial Day is to be united by our collective grief.  As we remember the service men and women who have died, we feel a combination of gratitude and grief.  Gratitude for their sacrifice and grief because of the pain that continues to be felt by all who love and miss them.  Memorial Day is a day to honor them by supporting their grieving loved ones and fellow veterans who continue to mourn.  It doesn’t matter whether the death occurred in World War II, Korea, Vietnam or Afghanistan, there is no statute of limitations on grief. 

Grief expert, Alan Wolfelt says that, “In America, grief is seen as shameful and should be gotten over as quickly as possible.”  We live in a country where many see the expression of grief as a weakness.  Most Americans without knowing why will immediately say, “I’m sorry” when they cry in front of someone.  We set a time limit by which people should “be over it”.  Here are some red, white and blue truths about grief for Memorial Day 2021.  Red:  grief is normal.  White:  no matter how long ago someone died, we will still miss them.  Blue:  grief is not a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of our shared humanity. 

This Memorial Day, in the aftermath of the staggering death toll from the pandemic and as a way of honoring our fallen veterans during a time of a growing division in our country, let us unite as Americans by experiencing and expressing our grief and by seeing support for all who mourn as true patriotism.  

My dad, Colonel George F. Qua, was buried at Arlington Cemetery in 2019.  We, his proud family, got to witness the riderless horse being led in the procession.  While I remember my own grief that day, what was even more powerful was the grief that surrounded me as I looked out at the sea of white markers.  That collective grief is what I will remember this Memorial Day. 

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