Memorial Day always has been a mishmash of emotions.
A national observance paying homage to those who’ve died in military service to our country, the day has evolved into one in which we also honor loved ones no longer with us.
We cry and pray and place flowers beside granite markers bearing the names of the deceased. And we spend time with our memories, laughing and longing and likely shedding more tears.
But the holiday on the last Monday in May, elongating the weekend, is also thought of as the unofficial start of summer. It’s a time for outings and community concerts, cookouts and family reunions.
Until now. Enter COVID-19 and all the changes the pandemic has wrought.
We stay at home, shelter in place, self-quarantine.
We don’t touch the hands of others, but spend quality time washing our own.
Events are questionable or postponed or canceled.
Businesses struggle to reopen successfully as we wrestle our angst over potential exposure to the coronavirus.
With the onset of Memorial Day weekend, families who recently have lost loved ones know well the limitations placed on our rituals of mourning.
We have been forced to grieve at a distance, saying our goodbyes alone at the casket or remotely. Comforting embraces denied; personal sympathies expressed impersonally.
Funeral services for even the most beloved have been attended by immediate family only or postponed to an unscheduled future date.
We never imagined our goodbyes could get more lonely, but they have.
That’s why this Memorial Day is especially significant. It will be unlike any other since the holiday’s inception.
Past Memorial Days, we worried about traffic safety. But this year, it’s personal safety.
Only a relative handful of in-person observances are planned; other ceremonies have been canceled or moved to online platforms.
Many of us will still visit cemeteries to pay our respects, flowers in hand, one-sided conversations to be had. Hands will rest atop the ground and lips press against cold headstones, outward signs of everlasting love.
Some things even a pandemic cannot change.