For those of us who have worn the uniform or have some personal association with the military, Memorial Day is a time to reflect and remember our brothers and sisters who made the ultimate sacrifice. But for some Americans, Memorial Day means throwing something on the grill and taking time off work. It’s no wonder that some people who view this day of remembrance as just another holiday go around and wish us “Happy Memorial Day.”
I know … I cringed as I typed what I will call for the rest of this article “those three words.” But here’s the thing: People really do mean well when they say that. They just don’t understand. So what do you do in that moment? Do you yell and scream at the person? Do you call them stupid? Do you walk off in frustration? Sure, you can do all of that. But what good does an aggressive reaction do?
How to Respond When Someone Says, "Happy Memorial Day."
Over the years, I’ve had a few family and friends who think Memorial Day is an offshoot of Veterans Day and really don’t mean any harm when they say “those three words.” I honestly can’t remember how I’ve responded in the past. Maybe I just thanked them and changed the subject, or maybe I just laughed it off. Regardless, I’ve decided this year and going forward, I would use those instances as a teachable moment and I advise other veterans to do the same. The key is to do this in a way that isn’t condescending or rude, but to just educate the person in a meaningful yet long-lasting manner, especially if you have personally experienced this type of loss.
If you have actually lost people in service, this would be the perfect time to bring one of them up. It can be as simple as saying, “I really appreciate the gesture, but today isn’t about me. It’s about those who didn’t make it home, including my buddy ________. I ask that you just think about him or her today.” If you don’t have firsthand experience with the loss of a fellow service member, simply tell the person to remember all of the fallen.
Ultimately, getting upset about a misplaced but otherwise genuine gesture makes Memorial Day about you when it should be about our fallen comrades. So my approach when someone says “those three words” will be to take the attention off of me and tell them to think about Spc. Hernaldo Beltran or Spc. Ian Patrick Morgan, two soldiers with whom I served in the 56th Signal Battalion at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. Two soldiers gone way too soon but are not forgotten.
Remember You are Not Alone: Call the Veteran Crisis Line
If Memorial Day is a particularly tough time for you, remember you are not alone. If you need someone to talk to, reach out to the Veterans Crisis Line. The service is free, confidential, and available 24/7. You don’t have to be enrolled in VA Health Care to use the service. You can call the line by dialing 1-800-273-8255, then press 1. You can also send a text to 838255 or visit veteranscrisisline.net.