Lots of people get Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day confused.
I confess, I’m one of them.
“Morning, Mr. V!” I say in a bright, cheery and sleepy voice. “It’s your day! Happy Memorial Day!”
“No,” says Mr. V, his voice quiet, sad. “It’s not my day–that would be Veteran’s Day later in the year. Today is my buddy ____’s day. He’s the one who never came home from Germany.”
“Oh,” I say.
“He’d have liked you,” Mr. V continues thoughtfully.
“Yeah, you’re pretty. He never met a pretty woman he didn’t flirt with.”
“Sounds like you two had a lot in common,” I grumble.
“Oh,” Mr. V laughs in response, “he was better at it than me. I only think I’m smooth…he actually was. Used to hate going out with him, he’d charm all the girls and none of them would even look at the rest us!”
As I get him ready for the day, Mr. V continues to regal me with stories of his friend and the war. I linger in his room longer than maybe I should, listening to him, letting his words paint a vivid picture of a time that is quickly becoming ancient history.
It occurs to me, quite suddenly, that after my generation, there very well might be no more caregivers for those who fought in World War 2. There are fewer and fewer of those veterans left; more and more pass away every year. I know that time period has been documented extensively and there is no shortage of movies, books and other stories based around the events of the Second World War. The war will likely never be forgotten.
My residents, with their personal stories and their personal losses might be.
That’s just the way history works: not every name will be remembered, not every story will be passed on. Not every soldier gets a movie made about his life; most become footnotes in the history books. In twenty more years, Mr. V’s friend might only be a name on a wall, a faded clipping of an old newspaper. And if his story is recorded in some format, it won’t be the same. It won’t be the same experience as sitting on the bed next to his buddy, hearing him stumble his way through memories gone fuzzy with time, but still raw with the pain.
I know that there will be other caregivers sitting next to other soldiers of other wars, listening to their stories. But they won’t be from World War 2, such a massive turning point in the history of our world. They won’t be about my friend’s friend.
That can’t be helped. You can’t stop time or slow it down. But while the stories and faces will change, I hope this tradition won’t; this simple, powerful act of sitting down and listening with all your focus. Honoring those lost in war by taking the time to listen to their friends who lived.
Happy Memorial Day, a bittersweet holiday if ever there was one.