This past weekend was Memorial Day. A day dedicated to the remembrance of service men and women who have given their lives for this country. We need to make time to contemplate our thanks to them and our connection to each other. We need to appreciate our lives and the temporary nature of our time here on this Earth. It can be daunting. I was once at a conference where the speaker asked the audience, “Who here is going to die?” There was a very reluctant show of hands. No one wanted to acknowledge his or her mortality even though intellectually we know that we aren’t going to live forever. Just as we honor the birth of individuals as they enter this world, we need to stop and
honor those who we have lost.
We need to recognize the service and sacrifice these individuals offered our country. Many of us make sacrifices in our lives and we have other holidays to honor those efforts—Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. My kids once asked me why there wasn’t Children’s Day? I told them that every day was children’s day. I even wrote an Op-Ed about that for the Patriot News. What I meant is that once we make a commitment to have children, we need to put them as a priority. That doesn’t mean that we don’t also focus on our own needs, but we need to consider our kids. I see too many young adults in my program who are often overly criticized by their parents. What ends up happening is that these children become burdened by those memories. They start criticizing themselves. They feel inadequate. They worry that they are going to fail. They sometimes find it easier to not try rather than try and not succeed.
Other memories that individuals are burdened with include past traumas. When a trauma occurs, individuals are often haunted by the memories, flashbacks, and nightmares for years to come. Even family and friends of those who died and are honored through Memorial Day can experience vivid and challenging memories. This can be especially true for individuals who served in the same conflicts and survived. They can struggle with survivors’ guilt. They can struggle with intense memories of events that occurred during those conflicts. Closer to home are individuals affected by other attacks—for example, the Boston Marathon Bombing.
So what writing prompts does this reflection lead us to…?
- What are your thoughts about Memorial Day? Think about the significance of the day…but
also consider people you have lost within your life. What memories do you have of them? Sometimes we need to appreciate the positive influences and memories to realize ways that they are still with us. And sometimes, if we have painful memories of others in our lives, writing can help us let some of the negativity go.
- What activities would help you to honor those in your life, present or gone, and help you
reflect on their impact on you? I often have my clients tell me about family members in only three words. It is often interesting what I can learn about their parents and their relationships. This exercise can give us a sense of traits that we may have gotten from our parents or others in our lives. Reflecting on this, can help us understand ourselves better.
- Write about your parents, your kids, or both. What sacrifices have you had to make
for them? What has that meant for your life? How do you feel about it? If you find yourself getting resentful, do you need to reevaluate your priorities and goals? We can’t do everything. When my kids were small, I wasn’t able to write as much as I wanted. I limited my work hours. That may have affected some potential job prospects, but I still value the decisions that I made. Yet sometimes when we consider sacrifices, we need to think about whether they are still necessary. We need to make certain we aren’t clinging to a sacrifice that is no
longer necessary, maybe even getting resentful, just because change is scary. Staying stuck can feel easier, but may not be the right thing to do. We need to be true to our authentic selves—write about what is important to you.
- Write about any past traumas you have struggled with. Writing about the event and
your emotions can help decrease the negative power it has over you. Organizing the event so that you write the story of it can help you release some of its hold. We often struggle with events and continually obsess over details when they remain scattered in our minds. We need to acknowledge the negative effect, but also recognize the fact that we survived. Celebrate our power and resiliency. When you write, think about what helped you get through. Look at and discover your inner strength.
- Write your memories…just start with “I remember…” and write for five or ten minutes. It
can be a reflection on the day. Sometimes it can help us connect with small miracles from the day that we would have missed if we didn’t stop and think about them. When my kids were little, I would try to write down 3 to 5 images or memories from the day. It would help me savor their playing with the hose and the shampoo bubbles and funny hairstyles and how my daughter twirled her fingers in my hair. Savor some images from today. So far mine would be the sounds of laughter drifting in from a lake across the street, my cat rolling on his back to get his tummy scratched, and my daughter sharing a reflection about horseback riding that had me there with her back on some of my past rides. These images connect me to this minute, to this day and help me celebrate my life.
Martha Peaslee Levine, MD