Some years we manage better than others. Like many military families, my own family lives in the Washington, D.C., area. When we shop for groceries at the Fort Myer, Va., commissary, we drive past Arlington Cemetery’s rows of tombstones. Our children have grown up not just knowing that their father and grandfathers served, but that many people who served did not return.
There have been Memorial Day weekends where we made the time to visit Arlington Cemetery—and not just drive past it on the way to get cereal. If you are ever in D.C. for Memorial Day, make the trip. It’s also very moving to see our national cemetery over the winter holidays, when volunteers place fir wreaths on each gravesite, making a connection between the grateful living, the honored dead and the natural world we all share.
But there have also been Memorial Day weekends when we just grilled some chicken and went to the pool. It’s about freedom! No matter where you live, and no matter what your family’s connections to the military are, you can find ways to connect a lively holiday with an important observance. Here are five suggestions:
If you’re an active family, consider a field trip to a cemetery or memorial nearby. You don’t have to fly in to Dulles; check out the American Battle Monuments Commission website for the closest one to your home. The bonus for parents of adolescents is that the drive there may spark good parallel conversations.
Community-minded? You may already be planning to attend a local parade. Use the trip as an opportunity to remind your kids of why the holiday began and who the servicemembers marching are and what they represent. It’s also a great time to talk about fundamentals of flag etiquette.
For the chill-axers, check out the Turner Classic Movies (TCM) Memorial Day Marathon: There’s something for everyone, from The Red Badge of Courage for Civil War buffs, to From Here to Eternity for World War II (and no parents will want to miss the beach scene).
Not into military stuff, but still want to acknowledge the meaning of Memorial Day? Easy: Visit your nearest National Park for a hike, a picnic or just a few hours marveling at what our fallen have protected. (Tip: Some Civil War battlefields now have national park status, too.)
Another great way to spend time with your loved ones, but also acknowledge service, is to volunteer to help those who serve—and those who served. Here’s a list of organizations that can help you help the military. Some require little more than a stamp, while others allow you to share time and memories with a veteran.