I come from a military family—my dad, both grandfathers, and extended family members have all served in the Navy or the Army. Yet, shamefully, despite my military roots, I’ve never thought much about what Memorial Day actually means, except to mark the unofficial beginning of summer. Maybe it’s because I’ve been fortunate enough to not have been close to anyone who’s died in the line of service, nevertheless, this is a holiday that’s worth celebrating—and with more than just grilling out or laying by the pool. There’s so much significance to this sometimes under-celebrated holiday. Dating back to the 1800s, this post-Civil War era American holiday is meant to be spent honoring and remembering those military men and women who have died in the line of service.
Check out what your city or town is doing to honor and remember its own members who’ve died serving our country. Many places hold parades and events honoring veterans on Memorial Day, why not pay your respects in a unique way this year? And if there’s someone special whom you’d love to honor, and you’re ready to spend the day doing something more than barbecuing and getting tan, here are some ideas.
1. Do something memorable
Just because the holiday itself tends to be a more somber one doesn’t mean that you need to spend the day feeling down. What made your loved one’s eyes light up and feel more excited or passionate than anything else? Do that thing, in honor of them! Maybe it was skateboarding, fishing, camping, biking, or going to concerts. Head out with mutual friends or family, and have a blast being active while experiencing their favorite thing, and even making new memories.
2. Cultivate new life
When someone passes away, it can feel like a hard ending to their story. When my own grandparents passed away, it felt so final, when it wasn’t necessarily the “end” of who they were. Each of us leaves behind a legacy and a unique mark on the world. In order to continue someone’s legacy, plant a tree in a different location each year, or add a special new houseplant to your apartment or flower variety to your garden each May. Late May is the perfect planting season in most climates, and there’s something incredible about watching new life flourish, especially in the name of someone who was dearly loved. As you prepare the soil, plant seeds in the ground and tend to your plant with water, focus on the things that made this person such a wonderful part of your life, and how you’ll continue to honor their legacy in the future.
3. Enjoy a group meal
Food is such a social experience—whether you’re cooking for someone or choosing to dine at a restaurant, I wholeheartedly believe that a meal is better when it’s shared. Anytime I cook with others, I learn new tricks in the kitchen, and dining with others reminds me not to just shove food in but to actually enjoy and savor the whole experience. So, cook your loved one’s favorite meal for your family and friends. Or head to a favorite restaurant of your beloved friend and order what they would’ve loved to eat. As you enjoy the food and drink, raise a glass (or a fork!) to them and the great times or meals you shared.
4. Watch their favorite movie
There’s something about remembering and experiencing what people loved that makes me feel closer to them—and movies or music are a unique way to “connect.” Whether I’m remembering just where they’d laugh at certain jokes or what scenes would always make them cry, watching a favorite movie can be pretty therapeutic. Maybe your loved one wasn’t that into movies, but they loved punk rock or jazz or opera—make a playlist of their favorite songs and listen to them throughout your day—chances are you’ll smile thinking of the way they sang or danced along.
5. Look through old photos
Most of us take more photos than we can even keep track of—our phones and computers are full of them. Make a slideshow of some old photos of you and family or friends with your loved ones, and just spend some time going through photos and remembering funny stories or happy times with them.
Originally published on May 28, 2018.