Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day

Memorial Day is significant as the day to honor the men and women who lost their lives in the service of our country. It used to be a huge observance... with parades, flag ceremonies, graveyard visits, poppies in lapels... not so much now.

For one thing, the most recent "wars" where these men and women have been killed, have been bitterly contested. Viet Nam was the first war to show all the gory details on TV every night. Intelligent people began asking: Why? Why were we sending our brave children overseas to do battle in a tiny country they'd never even heard of? Of course, the enemy then was "Communism." Enemies change. Arbitrary lines on maps change. Agendas change. And we've outgrown some of our valiant naivete in matters political. Or at least that's the spin.

As a child I remember Memorial Day more for the rules and regulations... no white shoes before the date, and always make a trip (the week before) out to the graveyard to paint the urn and plant red geraniums. But in 1991 this holiday took on a new personal significance for me.

I had been away for the weekend, actually only overnight on Sunday, but I hadn't checked in on my mom since Saturday afternoon. I arrived at her apartment Sunday around lunch time and let myself in. She was asleep on the couch. I'd taken to checking her breathing every time I found her asleep, since by then she'd had at least three minor strokes. All was well. She was breathing, so I didn't wake her. I cleaned up the accumulation of dishes in her kitchen and made her some lunch.

When I brought it in, she still hadn't heard me puttering around in the kitchen, so I patted her shoulder to wake her up. Nothing. I shook her. It was then I realized she was stiff as a board. Her eyes were open, she was breathing, but nothing else was going on. It took me some time to process this information. I talked it through out loud with her.

"Mom, something's wrong. Wake up. You aren't waking up. I guess you don't want this lunch I made. I'm going to go call the doctor now. You wait here. Well of course, you will. You're not moving. Okay, I'm just going into the other room to call now. I'll be back."

The ambulance came and she went to the hospital. She never woke up. She died a week later.

For me it's not the date. The date changes every year. That year Memorial Day was much later, because she died on June 6th. It's the holiday I remember.

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