Hot dogs and burgers on the grill, potato salad, and baked beans, cold drinks chilling in the cooler; just a few signs of a family BBQ celebration in the works. Memorial Day is oftentimes observed by many across America, with our family and friends getting together, eating our favorite picnic foods, throwing back a cold one and listening to some tunes and having a good ‘ol time.
**Potential trigger warning for the following topic**
I have family members on both sides of my family who have served our country. It is a proud heritage and one that I wouldn’t dream of dishonoring. My Grandpa, Kenneth Thomas, fought in WWII and was an incredibly brave soldier who saved many lives. He saw a lot of disturbing things in the war and as a result, he suffered tremendously for many years from the effects of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and it carried well into his married life. Unfortunately back then nobody really understood PTSD or knew what to do about it. Soldiers were expected to just ‘man up’ and forget the horrific images etched in their minds and just move on with their lives.
Who knows how much different it could’ve been if he had the help and support available that we do now. But that wasn’t the case and sadly when my mother was at the tender age of 12, his PTSD won the battle and his life was taken. The tragic ending of his life devastated my mom and her entire family and haunts them still today. Decades later now that my mother is a Grandmother and I’m now a mom myself, we made a trip to the small town she grew up in Idaho. Her cousin now lives in the house she grew up in. She shared with me the frightening experiences of growing up with a Father with mental illness, and how she would lock herself in the bathroom. She longed to have her Daddy hold her and comfort her as he used to on his ‘good days’. But there was a monster inside of him that was tearing away at his mind, like a dark cloud brewing a storm that was just growing bigger every day.
I remember hearing stories of what kind of man he was before the war and I couldn’t help but wonder what could’ve been had he not been through the travesties he experienced. Experiences that shook him to the core and changed his life and his families life forever. One of the ways that I became closer to my Grandfather and learned more about him was by reading his poetry. He was a very talented poet and I believe it was a form of therapy for him after the war. It was because of his writing that I was also inspired to write poetry at a young age and become a blogger now. All though I never met him, I felt closer to him somehow through his poetry. So much so that I named my first born son Thomas as a way to honor his memory.
When I was a young girl, I found out that my Uncle Billy, my mom’s second to the youngest brother, had taken his life. He suffered from severe depression, possibly a chemical depression that is genetic. He had always wanted to marry and have a large family too. He bought a big house and hoped to fill it with children someday. He never did marry. When he became suicidal he admitted himself into a hospital for mental illness. I still remember the day we picked him up from there and took him home. That was the last time I saw him.
My Uncle Robert (my mother’s older brother) fought in Vietnam which we all know from history was one of the most graphic and tragic wars in history at the time. My Uncle would say it’s because, unlike previous wars, you never knew who your enemy was. A child could walk into your camp looking as innocent as could be and then you realized he had a bomb strapped to his body. When women and children are turned into weapons nobody wins. Nobody. Sadly my Uncle Robert also suffered from PTSD and it took his life several years ago as well. Even by that time there still wasn’t the help we have now for soldiers suffering from PTSD. To top it off there was no celebration for these soldiers, only shame and ridicule. It wasn’t until years later that Vietnam vets were honored properly. We must remember this; the battlefield isn’t the only place where soldiers’ lives are lost. If you need help I’ve included resources below. You are not alone.
How to Observe Memorial Day
So why would I find it okay to celebrate Memorial Day weekend with BBQ’s you may ask and what is the right way to observe Memorial Day? Because my family and those who served and lost their lives didn’t go to war so that we would sit in our homes with the windows barred up and our doors barricaded; in fact, they went to war so that we wouldn’t have to live our lives that way.
They want us to enjoy the freedom they fought so hard to preserve. They want us to go outside and spend time as a family to enjoy the friendships we’ve made, to continue to preserve peace throughout our country and enjoy the rights we have that so many other countries do not. To attend any church we choose, to vote for any candidate we see fit, (whether we like who our friends and family voted for or not) to speak our minds when a wrong needs to be made right, to walk the streets without scorn, to wear what we want to wear and be who we want to be and feel the freedom that has been given us.The battlefield isn’t the only place where soldiers’ lives are lost. #MentalHealthAwareness
Freedom isn’t free
That freedom that we are all enjoying every day, no it doesn’t come free. It most certainly came with a price; a very dear one. We pay for it still and don’t even realize it. Our military is always on guard, watching, ever watching. That’s what they do best and that’s why I’ll be serving up my kids their hot dogs and potato salad on a paper plate every Memorial Day and not feel the least bit guilty.
Come Monday we will still be walking solemnly through a local cemetery, placing flags on the graves of soldiers, just like my mom and Grandma used to take us to the cemetery every Memorial Day to visit our loved ones and remember our veterans. I’ll tell them about their Grandpa and their Uncle and why my son was named after his Great Grandpa. The story he’s heard a hundred times but he loves to hear it still. I only pray that by the time he’s a Grandpa that he can tell the same story to his grandchildren under the same freedom we enjoy today.
Now if you don’t mind I’ve got some burgers on the grill that need tending too. Enjoy your weekend everyone; It’s what my Grandpa would’ve wanted I’m sure of it. He wrote this poem many years ago in honor of Memorial Day. It’s not even his best work, he had a notebook full of his amazing poems we hope to publish someday, but I love the message it carries and I hope you will too:
That these dead shall not have died in vain!”
Do you recall Lincoln’s phrase?
Those deathless words he uttered
in those dark and dreadful days?
And those dead that day of whom he spoke
are not the only ones,
For since that day at Gettysburg
we’ve given many sons.
To appease the hungry God of war
when he rears his ugly head
Claims as his price, the sacrifice,
of all the wounded and the dead.
The tyrants of the world decreed
and tried to justify,
That if we’d save our way of life
many men must die.
And so we have Memorial Day
to pay a portion of our debt
To those who gave their very lives
and whom sometimes we forget.
A day set aside in memory
of our dear departed sons,
Who fought the foe that threatened us
and faced the violent guns.
They did not choose a hero’s death,
nor did they falter when it came.
They faced the future hopefully,
they sought not name or fame.
When they were young and dreaming dreams
it wasn’t figured in their plan,
To sacrifice their precious life,
but each faced it like a man.
So in memory we’ve named this day
to pay homage once again.
To decorate–to consecrate–to pray
that they did not die in vain.
-Jess Thinkun –
May is Mental Health Awareness Month
I don’t think it’s any coincidence that May is Mental Health Awareness month. It’s also important to remember that it’s not just soldiers who are enduring due to mental illness. (If you have lost a family member to PTSD please know you are not alone, there is help and support groups for you as well)
- Mental health is essential to everyone’s overall health and well-being, and mental illnesses are common and treatable.
- People experience symptoms of mental illnesses differently—and some engage in potentially dangerous or risky behaviors to avoid or cover up symptoms of a potential mental health problem.
- Sometimes people—especially young people—struggling with mental health concerns develop habits and behaviors that increase the risk of developing or exacerbating mental illnesses, or that could be signs of mental health problems themselves.
- Activities like compulsive sex, recreational drug use, obsessive internet use, excessive spending, or disordered exercise patterns can all be behaviors that can disrupt someone’s mental health and potentially lead them down a path towards crisis.
- It is important to understand early symptoms of mental illness and know when certain behaviors are potentially signs of something more.
- We need to speak up early and educate people about risky behavior and its connection to mental illness—and do so in a compassionate, judgment-free way.
- When we engage in prevention and early identification, we can help reduce the burden of mental illness by identifying symptoms and warning signs early—and provide effective treatment Before Stage 4.
Want to make a difference to a wounded vet? Donate here today at Wounded Warriors.
Struggling with depression and/or anxiety and not sure where to turn? There are many places you can turn too for help:
National Alliance on Mental Illness
Are you contemplating suicide and don’t know where to turn? Please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline immediately at 1-800-273-8255
Please know you are NEVER truly alone!You're not alone; call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 they can help. #4Mind4Body
Where does YOUR state rank in Mental Health? (click this image to find out!)