A Civic Prayer for the Living and the Dead on Memorial Day Weekend in New Mexico

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As the Sunday before Memorial Day approached, my father would diligently place flowers on the family graves. He called them “decorations,” harkening back to the old Ozarker tradition. Even though many of the relatives buried there had passed away long ago, their memory was still vibrant in his mind.

As a young child, I would reluctantly accompany my father on these annual trips to the cemeteries. I would sit under the shade of a nearby tree, disinterested in the names on the gravestones that he would recite. The connection to these distant relatives was lost on me, except for perhaps my grandmothers.

Memorial Day held a special significance for my father, who observed it with a solemn sense of duty. It marked the beginning of the year for him, a time to honor the dead in his own way. His meticulous preparations, from collecting empty coffee tins for the decorations to carefully choosing flowers from yards and gardens, reflected his deep respect for the occasion.

Visiting both Osborne Memorial Cemetery and Forest Park, my father would share stories about our family history and pay homage to the veterans among our ancestors. The ritual of honoring the dead in this unique and personal manner was his way of keeping their memory alive.

Over the years, I have experienced the profound impact of death on my own life. From the loss of my mother to the passing of close friends, death has become a tangible reality that reminds me of the fleeting nature of life. Each death has left its mark on me, shaping my understanding of mortality and the importance of living fully while we can.

As we commemorate Memorial Day and pay tribute to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, let us also remember the living. Embracing the joys and sorrows of others, showing love and compassion, and reflecting on what truly matters in life are essential aspects of honoring the spirit of the holiday. In a world filled with uncertainty and loss, it is through acts of kindness and remembrance that we can find solace and meaning.

As we offer our prayers and tributes this Memorial Day, let us not forget the power of collective memory and the enduring legacy of those who have gone before us. In a simple gesture, such as a painted coffee can filled with borrowed flowers, we can honor the past and celebrate the present, bridging the gap between the living and the dead.

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