It is NEVER a ‘happy’ Memorial Day

Elisa A. Escalante/ LMSW/ 5-23-2020

“It is a dark, painful and torturous path to take. And we do not do it for reward, we do it because it’s right.” -EaE

What do veterans and military members think about when Memorial Day comes up? Typically, it is not about a day off, a celebration or a sale. They may smile to save face, they may go to the BBQ’s, but their mind may not be celebrating, rather mourning. One of the most painful things about traumatic grief is how often it is invalidated or swept under the rug, as if there is no such thing as painful loss because we “signed up for this”. Or perhaps military members and veterans are perceived to be ‘so strong’ for the hardships they have endured that maybe ‘they do not feel pain or mourn’ like the rest of the population…? I am here to tell you that is wrong, and the veteran that smiles through everything post deployment and post military service are not always happy or okay. It could potentially be the opposite.

     What is going through our minds when Memorial Day weekend comes up? Below are a few possibilities.

We are Remembering and/ or Mourning:

  • Losing coworkers/ comrades in military service and war. Sometimes by combat related means and sometimes due to suicide.
  • Almost dying (for those that almost did die during missions)
  • Losing clients (healthcare/ mental health care military workers)
  • Remembering traumatic events and close calls
  • Remembering hearing about death/ loss nearby, by other troops on near by missions.  
  • Mourning our own career’s and what we miss about the camaraderie of service
  • Missing our military identities
  • How disconnected we feel from other’s
  • The war/ mission itself (believe it or not some want to go back to war for the familiarity or trauma bonding)

     Memorial Day is not about celebration, but about remembrance and solemnly honoring those that have died sacrificing themselves to service the country. Many veterans have served and ‘made it out alive’, however, it would be reasonable to assume that many of them have lost at least one person if not more. Some of them may never want to talk about it. Some veterans may numb out and ‘not feel’ anything when this weekend comes up, perhaps it is too much to process. While others will hide so that their emotions are not witnessed by others.

     We may have signed up knowing that deploying and losing others was a risk, but no one understood how heavy the loss would feel. The other factor to consider is that single episodes of traumatic grief is often met with sympathy and compassion. Such as the loss of one individual stateside that is important to us. However, the country has a funny way of trying to celebrate large scale traumas. Such as 9/11 with a museum and money generated off the horrific loss of others, as well as an entire ‘holiday’ weekend for those that have died fighting for their countries. I equate this to a fear of feeling and vulnerability. No one wants to think about or feel trauma on that grand of scale, but it is necessary to acknowledge when tragedy has happened. It is necessary to acknowledge when there are living/ breathing people still suffering from those tragedies.

     I have absolute confidence that most of our civilian counterparts have no clue how deep this weekend may hit some military members and veterans. Also, many get it mixed up with Veterans day weekend, which is celebratory. It is not on purpose; it is just something to be addressed and an incredible learning opportunity for many. Currently only 1% of the population is serving in the military and only 8% of us are veterans. We do not have a lot of people, a community of those that can give empathy is valuable/ crucial for our healing. Instead of thinking about how we may ‘celebrate’ memorial day weekend, hopefully we can think about how we may remember and honor those that we have lost due to military and/ or war trauma and the horrific aftermath of chronic “invisible” wounds.

“The worst part of holding the memories is not the pain. It’s the loneliness of it. Memories need to be shared” – Lois Lowry

Published by functionallymentall

Social Worker, Writer, USAF Veteran

One thought on “It is NEVER a ‘happy’ Memorial Day

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