Surviving Spouse Corner: Why It’s Not ‘Happy’ Memorial Day

Surviving Spouse Corner: Why It’s Not ‘Happy’ Memorial Day
U.S. servicemembers carry wreaths during a Memorial Day service in Madingley, England, on May 29, 2023. (Photo by Tech. Sgt. Tarelle Walker/Air Force)

This time of year, we are all inundated with advertisements on TV, in our email, on social media, or even in stores that say, “Happy Memorial Day” or promote Memorial Day sales.


I get it — for most, it is a well-earned day off work. It often signals the beginning of the summer beach season. And yes, it is a long weekend with friends and family spent by the pool or grilling in the backyard. It is easy to forget the true meaning behind the holiday.


So, what is Memorial Day? Memorial Day, formerly known as Decoration Day, is the one day a year our country sets aside to recognize, remember and mourn our U.S. servicemembers who have died while serving our great country. It is also a day to remember our Gold Star Families, those who have lost a servicemember on active duty. This day can be especially hard on these families and those who have lost loved ones, as emotions are often elevated.


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For this reason, although I don’t take offense, I always encourage people to not say “Happy Memorial Day.” Think of it this way: Would you say, “Happy funeral”? That helps it to sink in a bit more, doesn’t it?


Given that we have an all-volunteer force, fewer and fewer people have lost someone in the service or even know someone who served after the Vietnam War era. Many do not realize we still have servicemembers in harm’s way, and each year we continue to have families back home who are getting that dreaded knock on the door to inform them their loved one has been lost. To some, it seems as though Memorial Day has become just another fun holiday for which the meaning has been lost. And to that I would say CELEBRATE!


Really? Yes, really! I am the Gold Star wife of WO1 Sean Mullen, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), who was killed in action in Afghanistan in June 2013. Sean loved this country and felt it was his honor and duty to serve. He would want you to go shopping, throw a neighborhood barbecue, take that beach trip, go camping with your kids — after all, he fought and died for the freedom we have to do those things.


All we ask is that at some point during that celebration, you join me by lifting up your drink for a toast or say a silent prayer for those who died for our freedom and that you live a life worthy of such sacrifice.


As George S. Patton Jr. said: “It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather, we should thank God that such men lived.”


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About the Author

Nancy Mullen
Nancy Mullen

Mullen is the Second Vice Chair of MOAA's Surviving Spouse Advisory Council.