Memorial Day 2020
Each year, on the last Monday of May, we observe an American holiday—Memorial Day. Originally begun to honor those who died in the Civil War, the holiday has expanded to honor the men and women who died in service to the United States in any war. Among those who lost their lives were nurses and other health professionals. This is as true in the new war we are fighting today, as it was long ago.
In 1915, physician and Canadian soldier John McCrae, seeing poppies in the battlefield where he was serving, wrote the poem “In Flanders Fields.” A little more than three years later, during the Spanish flu pandemic, American professor Moina Michael was inspired by Dr. McCrae’s poem, and penned another poem, “We Shall Keep the Faith.” Her mention of wearing a red poppy to honor those who had died was the genesis of the tradition carried on to this day.
Traditionally, on Memorial Day, people visit cemeteries, gather with family and friends, and informally mark the beginning of summer. This year Memorial Day will feel different from the normal.
Our country, indeed the world, is fighting a different war right now—against a virus. Those on the front lines are not carrying guns, but they still need to arm themselves for battle, to expend their energy, to distance from their families, and to risk their lives for others.
As the years have gone by, poppies have come to symbolize not only the “ultimate sacrifice,” but also recovery. They help us reflect on those, who while they survived the war, are left to deal with the physical and psychological injuries they suffered. Those poppies can take on an additional meaning this year. They can be symbols of the service provided in hospitals everywhere. We still do not know the extent of the harm being inflicted.
"Patriotism,” stated Adlai Stevenson, the American politician, lawyer and diplomat, “is not short, frenzied outbursts of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime."
Do not nurses and other health professionals demonstrate that same steady dedication about which he speaks? Are they not devoted to protecting the country each day by fighting the tiny but powerful viral foe? Their dedication is steady, their skills are honed and updated constantly, and their caring for others is selfless.
We must especially remember those colleagues who have made the ultimate sacrifice with their lives. How many patients have they nursed to recovery before losing the same fight they helped others win? Let us keep them in our hearts on this day of remembrance. Let us honor their work and sacrifices by continuing our efforts in this fight. Let us reach out to comfort their grieving families and loved ones who are left behind. Moreover, let us support each other in this work to which we have dedicated our lives.
Reflection written by Vida B. Lock, PhD, RN. Photos provided by Dr. Lock, taken during a past trip to Europe.