By Kelly Cummings, LSF Communications Manager, Military Veteran Caregiver, and White Star Sister
If someone you love has lost his or her life while serving our country, or as a result of visible or invisible service-related wounds after coming home, every day is Memorial Day for you. This is not something that you only think about one weekend out of the year. However, as the official day of observance approaches, feelings of loss and/or survivor’s guilt may become more intense as Memorial Day messaging invades all of the media outlets. Add to that the irritation that may come from well-meaning individuals wishing you a “happy” Memorial Day and retailers putting everything on sale to “celebrate the official kick-off of summer” and Memorial Day can be a lot to handle.
Some survival techniques can be self-destructive and make us feel even worse. (i.e. Self-medicating and isolation.) I wanted to discover ways that others are inviting Memorial Day as a healing experience instead of just trying to survive it. I asked our social media followers and our staff for their thoughts on positive ways to remember, honor, and cope. The overall theme was this: “Don’t mourn their death, celebrate their life.” Here are some ideas for doing that while taking care of yourself in the process.
- Reach out
While your initial instinct may be to avoid other people, isolation can actually increase anxiety. (Check out this article from Psychology Today to learn why!)
Have you been dragging your feet on joining a local group? Now might be a good time to dig in your heels and check it out. There are thousands of nationwide and local organizations offering recreational, peer support, and networking groups. If you don’t know what groups are available in your area, ask your friends if they are involved in anything that you can check out with them. This very short list of suggestions for both veterans and civilians might give you some ideas as well. If nothing looks good, why not start your own group?
- For survivors, try looking into TAPS
- Find a local GoRuck Club
- See if there are any local Meetup groups that interest you
- Find local Team RWB veteran events near you
- Find your local Vet Center and see if they have a group
- See if Wounded Warrior Project has a peer support group near you
If you don’t feel motivated to reach out for your own wellbeing, try reaching out as an act of service. Call a Gold Star family member or a friend to check in. Or try visiting a VA Hospital and asking veterans to share some memories with you.
“I sit and take a moment to think of every soldier we’ve lost in our unit. I reach out to their wives and family to let them know how grateful I am to them, how much I respect them, and that the memory of their soldier will never die as long as I’m alive.”
– Robyne Bush
- Get Active
Exercise releases endorphins (feel-good brain chemicals) and can give us a temporary break by letting us get out of our heads for a little bit. There are countless events nationwide for all fitness levels that are designed to honor our fallen loved ones. From rucks to CrossFit, it’s likely that you can find an event that combines activity with comradery for a powerful healing experience. Here are some ideas from our Lone Survivor Foundation Facebook followers.
“The Murph workout with other vets/first responders around me. https://themurphchallenge.com/“
– Daniel Schell
“I host the Kilo 19 – A Walk to Remember (in Crystal Beach, TX). Come join us. We’ll tell stories, laugh, cry, hug and make friends for life. https://www.facebook.com/events/363285004495215/”
– Ken Meyer
“I spend the day walking down the beach, sharing stories, laughing, crying, and just being together (at the Kilo 19).”
– Judi Owensby Meyer
“Holding a Veterans rock climbing day with the VA. No one gets left behind.”
“Carry the Load event in Dallas…come on out and walk, ruck, fellowship and remember the real meaning of Memorial Day.”
– Shawn Thoe
If you are not the athletic type and the thought of exercising causes you even more anxiety, let your intention be to participate in an activity just for the good feeling of it. You don’t need to compete with anyone or push yourself…. just breathe and find movement that feels good. If you’re not ready for a group event like those above, find something that is appropriate for your current health and ability level and give it a try to manage anxiety and depression. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
- Go to a local park with a walking trail. If you don’t know where to go, you may find an idea at mapmywalk.com.
- If you use a wheelchair or have limited mobility, try searching for seated exercises on YouTube if your doctor has cleared you for exercise.
- Check out the Veteran’s Yoga Project Home Practice Library. You don’t need to be a veteran to take advantage of the mindful movement practices on their site.
- Host or Attend an Event, Large or Small
If you’ve read Tip #1, you know that being with others can help with anxiety. Try to find a local event that you can feel good about. Many organizations host events that benefit veterans’ service organizations, especially in May. You can also find events that bring in military vehicles and aircraft for the ultimate show-and-tell with your family. You might even try turning this into an act of service by looking for an event that needs volunteers.
If events and crowds cause anxiety for you, take a look at our “Holiday Party Deployment Guide.” While this was written with holiday parties in mind, this article guides you through “pre-mission planning, intel gathering, logistic planning, pre-mission checks, identifying allies, engagement, tactical assessment and end of mission,” and we think it would apply to many social situations.
Here are some ideas for finding an event:
- Try visiting your favorite Veterans’ Services Organization website and looking at their upcoming events. (You can find events benefiting Lone Survivor Foundation here.)
- To find events in your area, try searching at https://allevents.in/ or https://www.eventbrite.com/directory/sitemap/. You can also try visiting the websites of your local news publications to see if they have an events section.
- To find volunteer opportunities, try looking at https://www.volunteermatch.org/
- If you’re interested in hosting an event to benefit Lone Survivor Foundation, start here.
Or, you can stay more low-key by hosting a small gathering of the people you are closest to. Get bonus points by incorporating some elements of Tip #4 below! Here are some ideas from our Facebook followers.
“By spending time w family & friends & preparing the foods our departed one(s) loved, seems to help💜🇺🇸”
– Karin Brown
“Danny Dietz Memorial Classic BBQ Cook Off. My wife and I with the help of some great friends host the Navy SEAL Gold Star wives for brunch on Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend. There are a number of other activities at the Fort Bend County Fairgrounds in Rosenberg Texas where this great event is held each year.”
– Johnny Dunn
“Danny Dietz Memorial Classic in Rosenberg, Texas. Fantastic event I am proud to volunteer for and give back while honoring and remembering those that gave the ultimate sacrifice.”
– Jenn Leigh
- Do Something Ceremonial
Whether you are attending an observance ceremony or you create your own ritual, ceremonies can be very healing. They can help us to honor those we have lost while working through our own pain. Here are some ideas for incorporating ceremony into your Memorial Day.
- Remember the things about your lost loved ones that make you smile. If you’re hosting a small gathering, you can turn this into a ceremony by asking everyone to take turns sharing their memories. You could even ask your guests to write their memories in a journal or on slips of paper that can be kept somewhere meaningful.
- Plant a tree in honor of your loved one. Let this new life remind you that the memory of your loved one lives on in your heart.
- Visit a gravesite with friends or family. You can access the Nationwide Gravesite Locator from the National Cemetery Administration here.
- Attend a Memorial Day ceremony. You can access the Department of Veterans Affairs Cemetery Listing of National and State Cemeteries here. Many cemeteries also need volunteers to help place flags.
- Check with local churches to see if they are offering a Memorial Day service.
“Every year we take down the American flag outside of our workshop and fold it and burn it in complete silence. During that time we pray for all who have served and are currently serving. When the flag is completely burnt we play a very patriotic song as we hang our new American flag.”
– Chelle Ritchey
- Create Something
Sometimes words can’t adequately express our feelings. After all, trauma is experienced through our bodies, our emotions, and our memories. (This is why creative arts therapy can be useful for PTSD recovery.) Try using a creative outlet to help with anxiety or depression. Here are some ideas.
- If you’re a musician, write a song. For inspiration, check out Battle Cry: Songs of America’s Heroes.
- Try painting or drawing a picture that describes how you feel about your loved one.
- Make a scrapbook.
- Create a piece of jewelry that memorializes your loved one.
- Make a memorial quilt.
- If you want to take a deeper dive by seeing a creative arts therapist, you can find one in your area by entering your zip code here and selecting “Art Therapy” under the Types of Therapy heading on the left side of the page.
We know that nothing can take away the pain of losing someone that you love. It is our hope that something suggested here will help to provide a little relief from intense feelings of loss or guilt. You are not alone, and we encourage you to reach out and let others know that they are not alone either. You never know the potential power of an encouraging word!
The whole team at Lone Survivor Foundation is deeply grateful for the sacrifice of all of our veterans, especially those who are no longer with us, “having paid the ultimate price while doing their work, and in death still stand watch over us.” Never Quit. Never Forget.
If you are a veteran in crisis or if you are concerned about one, please call the Veterans Crisis Line at (800) 273-8255 or text 838255.
Founded in 2010 by retired Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell, Lone Survivor Foundation leads veterans & their families on a path to healing from combat trauma. Learn more at http://bit.ly/lsfprogram.