Memorial Day: Dealing with Grief after Honoring our Nation's Heroes

Posted by Bria Patterson on June 5, 2023

History Behind Memorial Day 

What does Memorial Day mean to you? For many, it’s a way to honor our fallen heroes. For some families it means dealing with the loss of a loved one who sacrificed their life for their country. As we've just wrapped up Memorial Day 2023, there are many things that can be learned from this honorable season. 

The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs states Memorial Day originated three days after the Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868. It was originally called Decoration Day and was considered a time for the nation to decorate the graves of fallen soldiers. According to Veteran Affairs, the first large observance was held at the Arlington National Cemetery. In 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday. 

Memorial Day is celebrated across the country in different ways. Many lay flags on graves at the cemetery, host barbecues and ceremonies. Bill Norbeg, a Navy veteran that served during WWII, explains what Memorial Day means to him. Norberg says during the time of the war, he had many comrades that didn’t make it back home. The 100-year-old now spends Memorial Day and most of his time informing schools, churches and groups about his experiences as a veteran.

“Memorial Day Memories”

- Bill Norberg

Hometown celebrations, parades, marching bands, red white and blue decorations. 

Serving in the Navy in a war. 

Respecting the flag, pledging Allegiance, martial music, American Legion meetings. 

Fundraising for the poor, standing up in church and elsewhere as a Navy Vet. 

Hearing a prayer at a vet’s funeral. 

 Hearing taps, watching a flag folding, and a presentation at a funeral.

 A band concert aboard a ship, a chaplain’s prayer at a funeral or at sea.

 Finally, hot dogs, hamburgers, roasted corn and fun with the family” 

Click here to learn more about Bill Norberg 

Honoring Veterans during Memorial Day 

Michael Costigan with the Good Samaritan Funeral Home says a good way to honor Memorial Day is to ensure veterans understand the benefits they are entitled to.

 Costigan has helped families of deceased veterans and says many do not know the benefits they should receive. “The veterans and their families have earned the right to know what their rights are”, says Costigan. 

According to the Good Samaritan Funeral Home, veterans are always entitled to an American Flag, Military Honors and Presidential Memorial Certificate. Veterans may also receive monetary benefits at the time of their death. 

Click here for more information for veteran benefits. 

Costigan says veterans and their spouses are also allowed to be buried at the Arlington Cemetery free of cost. That also goes for children who are still dependent on their parents.  To learn more, you can visit your local Veteran Affairs Office. 

Families of deceased veterans are often given a folded flag.  Costigan says a great way to honor that veteran is to showcase the flag, especially during memorial day. “Don’t keep it in the closet. Put it in the window. Put it on the mantle. It’s a sign of respect for our veterans. The flag tells a story of our country”, says Costigan. 


Dealing with Grief After Memorial Day 

And while Memorial Day honors our soldiers, it can be a time of grief for many. This grief is recognized on the last Monday of May, but is felt throughout the year. 

Becky Kay, the founder of “Survivors of Suicide Loss”, assists families who are grieving. Kay was inspired to form the group after the death of her two sons. She says grief affects us differently as we age.  “It’s different from when we were in our twenties, thirties and forties because we are more isolated sometimes as we age.” 

She states it’s important to surround yourself with others who have also experienced a traumatic loss. “It’s always interesting to me what we can do and become from such brokenness. When we heal, as imperfect as that may be, we can be such a gift to someone else who is going through the same loss.”, says Kay.

According to Kay, grief never leaves you. It’s something you have to live through. "There’s nothing good or pleasant. But you have to do it. You have to grieve, it’s the price you pay for loving. But you have to grieve and get it out of you in a healthy way.” 

When asked about ways to cope while mourning, Kay says it can be different for everyone. She says if you need to speak with others who can understand what you’re going through, group therapy sessions may be good for you. She says the first step could also be speaking with your doctor or a faith leader.

She also states it’s important to get outside and also focus on your physical health. “My yard became a place where there was peace, and it has a peaceful feel to it. And one day I realized I had prayer flags out there that I had made. I made things and worked through my grief by planting flowers and watching them grow.” 

According to Kay, funeral homes often have resources for grieving families, called aftercare. She says these programs are often directed to how your loved one died. For instance, there are programs for survivors of family members who died from Alzheimer’s, Breast Cancer, Diabetes, etc.  And if you need an organization to help focus on your mental health while grieving, you can reach out to Mental Health America for assistance. 

Whether you’re in your first stage of grieving or are dealing with a death from years ago. The process is a journey. “None of us grieve alike. We all grieve as differently as our DNA. That’s why I give back today to show people there is hope. You eventually get past that deep wounded grief. That grief that is so consuming of your mind. You can go to a place filled with wonderful memories. I’m 82 years old, and I never thought I would enter this age the kind of woman that I am today when I look back where I started.”, says Kay. 

That’s what Memorial Day means for so many. Telling the story of that journey. Whether it’s from the perspective of a 100-year-old veteran who experienced a great loss during WWII, or those who spend their lives helping grieving families. It’s a healthy way to reflect on the nation’s heroes. Because as Costigan states, “When you do that, you are giving to someone else who gave their life, so you can live your life.”



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