Memorial Day customs vary from region to region, but where I grew up—in Cherokee, Kansas—families spent Memorial Day weekend decorating the graves of loved ones. In the Cherokee cemetery, up on the hill just outside of town, we would tend graves on both sides of the family that dated back at least three generations. Mom and the grandmas would purchase artificial wreaths and bouquets, because they would last longer. But they also cut fresh flowers and created arrangements for the graves. Generally the peonies came into bloom at about that time, so my mother harvested the gigantic blooms from our yard, and in the week or two prior to Memorial Day, there was always some discussion as to whether the peonies would come in time.
I’m rarely back “home” on Memorial Day anymore, so I can’t wander the cemetery hill and read the gravestones of my heritage. Many of us are far removed from such hallowed locations, having shifted residence to cities distant from our childhood homes. Also, more and more people are getting cremated now, the remains stored in urns in the home, scattered at a designated location, or placed within a church columbarium.
So perhaps I can still use flowers, even if I can’t place them on the graves of grandparents, great-grandparents, great-aunts and great-uncles, and my father. Perhaps I should buy a wonderful bouquet and put it in my home, and below it scatter cards with the names of the deceased. Perhaps when I walk by the blooms, I will remember to say a prayer of thanksgiving for those lives and to pray for their continued journeys.