In the spring of 1868, General John Logan issued an order to the Grand Army of the Republic, a brotherhood of Veterans of the Union Army, Navy and Marine Corps:
“The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.”
General Logan observed the resulting devastation and destruction after the American Civil War and declared that what was left of the Union military needed a day to reflect and remember their loss. On the first Decoration Day, General James Garfield stood at Arlington Cemetery, amid the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers alike and spoke to the crowd of spectators who had gathered to honor their memories:
“I am oppressed with a sense of the impropriety of uttering words on this occasion. If silence is ever golden, it must be here beside the graves of fifteen thousand men, whose lives were more significant than speech, and whose death was a poem, the music of which can never be sung… For love of country they accepted death, and thus resolved all doubts, and made immortal their patriotism and their virtue.”
Today, Memorial Day is observed nationwide – a single day of the year when businesses close, schools shut down and we collectively remember and honor the sacrifice of our fallen soldiers.
What a beautiful tradition, and what a great opportunity for funeral professionals to offer additional support to their communities.
Here are a few ways you and your staff can help families observe Memorial Day:
1. Play “Taps” at 3 o’clock.In 2000, Congress passed the National Moment of Remembrance declaration asking all Americans to pause at 3 p.m. (local time) to “voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to ‘Taps.’”
Consider asking a local musician (or high school music teacher) to play taps outside your funeral home at 3 p.m. on Memorial Day, and invite members of your community to observe their “moment of remembrance” alongside you and your staff.
2. Offer free breakfast for Veterans.
Host a Memorial Day breakfast (or lunch) for Veterans and their spouses, and invite them to attend for free. Are there caterers you often work with for memorial luncheons? See if they would be willing to sponsor some of the meal. Ask choir singers from local churches to provide patriotic music as entertainment. Invite your local florist to donate centerpieces for the tables. And be sure to have some sort of gift to send home with our deserving Veterans. Something simple – like a keepsake book or candle – can offer a meaningful reminder of the care and consideration you showed when they attended an event at your funeral home.
3. Organize a cemetery cleanup day.
Memorial Day is one of the busiest days for cemeteries – especially in sections reserved for Veterans and their families. Reach out to your local cemetery operators to see if they need a few extra hands to prepare. Offer to help clean up debris leftover from the winter months, or volunteer to post flags at the grave markers for all Veterans. Then, encourage your staff to attend and invite members of your community to participate.
4. Invest in a little patriotism.
Speaking of flags, make sure that you have a few proudly displayed at your funeral home. Line the sidewalk with miniature flags, hang a flag from a second-story balcony or simply make sure any flags that are already on site are looking their very best.
If you have a flagpole at your funeral home, be sure to lower the flag to half-staff until noon, and then raise it to full-staff for the remainder of the day.
5. Organize a trip to the local Veterans’ home.
Take some time to personally thank the Veterans in your community who are living at the local Veterans’ home. Ask your staff to take a few hours to visit with them and thank them for their service. Bring along a board game and a couple decks of cards, and spend a few hours listening to their stories over Dominoes, Cribbage and Pinochle.
6. Host a community-wide memorial service.
It’s always a good idea to open the doors of your funeral home to members of your community – especially on a day set aside for mourning. Place an ad in the local newspaper (and a few posts on your social media channels) inviting community members to attend a memorial service. Ask prominent members of your community (pastors, teachers, business owners, etc.) to help host the event and greet your guests. Reach out to client families who had a loved one serve in the military. Invite Veterans to attend, and be sure to recognize them at some point in the service.
These are just a few ways to observe Memorial Day, but it is certainly not an exhaustive list. Think about your community and your client families, and decide what type of Memorial Day observance will best meet their needs. The most important thing is to recognize and commemorate it in some way – whatever way works best for you and the staff at your funeral home.