Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Monday, May 26, 2008

Happy Memorial Day!

by Kerry Blair

Thanks to Jeff for lending me his day when I missed my own, and apologies to all the rest of you for the disappointment of finding me here, now. I know just how you feel. Jeff’s blog is the highlight of my Mondays as well. Never fear: he will be back next week and in the meantime you will find his Farworld blog HERE. (And, yes, you may all be excused now.)

I asked to blog today because Memorial Day is possibly my favorite holiday. Truly. Not only am I descended from a long line of patriots and veterans of war, but I’ve always had a thing for dead people.

The final clause of that last sentence is not quite as macabre as it sounds. (Almost, but not quite.) When I was a child, my favorite picture book was an album of family daguerreotypes, several of which had been taken after the subjects’ deaths. No, my maiden name is neither Addams nor Kevorkian; calling in a photographer when a loved one passed was not uncommon in America in the late 1800s. Nor was it uncommon a few generations later to decorate ancestral graves on Memorial Day, and then have a picnic at the site. At any rate, I grew up fascinated by old photos and older cemeteries. These days the pictures are framed and displayed, and I am not only faithful about keeping up the graves of loved ones in the area, but am inclined to drive a hundred miles out of the way to visit a great-grandmother’s final resting place and/or drag my family to the oldest plots in practically any city we happen to visit in order to pay my respects to total strangers.

As I said, I have a deep and abiding appreciation for dead people. It has little to do with the fact that they’re dead. It has everything to do with the fact that they lived. Loved. Did all the things that we do – and more. At some point they passed on their life and love (and green eyes and square faces and clefted chins) before moving on as we all must. Since my children were very small I have tried to impress upon them that “Families Can be Together Forever” is more than a Primary song. It is an eternal truth older than the world on which we live. Because of our Savior, the people who stare down at us from the mantel still live. They still love. And I suspect they are as mindful of us as we are of them, probably more so. Putting flowers on their graves is a meaningful custom, but honoring them in our hearts, and being grateful for the sacrifices they made, should be something we do 365 days a year, not just one.

And, of course, being who we are and knowing what we know, we should do more than that.

I suspect I feel more strongly about genealogy (and dead people) than most because of a dream I had when I was ten or twelve. I wasn’t yet a member of the Church, so while its meaning could not have been clearer, its message didn’t strike me until years later.

In the dream I was seated in a bright and beautiful room, surrounded by women I felt I had always known and always loved. The bonds between us were stronger even than sisterhood. These women weren’t just dear to me, they were part of me. I felt that I had always been with them. I wanted to continue to be with them forever.

Very soon a stranger entered and told us that we were soon to be separated. We must live other lives in another place. She then began to describe the places we might go and bits and pieces of the lives we might live. Though I sense I saw many lives, I only remember a few. First, she described a sparse existence of bitter cold and gnawing hunger. While I shrank away, one of my beloved sisters raised her arm and said, “I will go. Send me.”

Another glimpse included a miserable voyage across a vast sea into a wilderness so strange and terrifying it made me shudder. “I will go,” said another of my sisters.

More life-experiences were described. Many were the scenes of deprivation, struggle, and heartache. I remember vividly the stranger asking for someone to bear fourteen children, with the knowledge that only two would live to adulthood. This time no one stirred. Then a very small, very gentle hand went up. “I will go. Send me.”

I was almost the only one uncommitted when the stranger told of the first life into which the gospel of Jesus Christ might come. There were many, many blessings . . . and one charge: to never forget. Here, at last, was the opportunity to somehow find and bind all the courageous, giving, and truly good women who went before . . . to restore our circle, this time forever.

“Me,” I said finally. “Please.”

And thus it was. When people are surprised to hear that I took the lessons, read the Book of Mormon, and was baptized in less than a week, it is because I’ve so rarely shared this vivid dream. (Almost never, in fact. I don’t know why the Spirit moved me so strongly this morning.) But the moment the missionaries mentioned earthly sealings done with heavenly keys I recognized my life’s mission. The rest, I figured, must be true because that so assuredly was. (The rest is true, I’m thrilled to report after years of study and application.)

And so Memorial Day has for me the meaning of Thanksgiving, the awe of Christmas, and the promise of Easter – along with the joy of every other holiday and birthday we observe – all wrapped up in one. I decorate graves. I honor the men and women who gave – and give – their lives for our country. Like most of America, I gather as much family as I can for a cookout. In the evening I take down the pictures and get out the books of “dead people” and I remember. In fact, I memorialize. My children know all faces and all the stories of the men and women who sacrificed and struggled and endured for love of us. Thus they better understand why they look as they do and believe as they choose. Each one of them has, in gratitude and faith, accepted the gift of life and given the gift of eternal life – as only the living are now able in the fonts of the Houses of our Lord. Because of His gift there are no dead people to remember. There are only people beloved by someone somewhere who have come and gone and now wait for a glorious reunion.

What a happy and memorable day that will be.


At 5/26/2008 11:29 AM, Blogger Annette Lyon said...

What a powerful post. Thank you for sharing that dream, Kerry. I don't think I'll ever look at Memorial Day the same way again.

At 5/26/2008 12:36 PM, Blogger Nancy said...

Beautiful, Kerry. Thank you. I agree with Annette- totally gave new meaning to my Memorial Day.

Love you!

At 5/26/2008 12:43 PM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

Thank you for sharing this incredibly powerful experience.

At 5/26/2008 1:50 PM, Blogger Marsha Ward said...

Kerry, I'm near to tears as I read your beautiful post. Thank you.

At 5/26/2008 1:54 PM, Blogger Crystal Liechty said...

What a beautiful post, Kerry! I got choked up reading it. It reminds me of how my mom joined the church after my older sister (at seven years of age) went up to her and asked, "Mommy, where's my older brother?" We didn't have an older brother and mom tried to explain this but my sister insisted she had one and she wanted to know where he was. That's when my mom realized she was talking about Jesus Christ and her quest for religion began.
Thanks again, Kerry! Happy Memorial Day!

At 5/26/2008 4:52 PM, Blogger Tamra Norton said...

Thank you for sharing this, Kerry! You've touched my heart and spirit with your words.

At 5/26/2008 5:28 PM, Blogger Anne Bradshaw said...

Reading this sent shivers across my shoulders. Thank you Kerry for such a beautiful post.

Long before I found the Church, I loved wandering through cemeteries, and taking photographs at sunrise and sunset among gravestones, shadows, and deep green trees. Graveyards have always held comfort and peace for me. I too knew why after discovering The Church of Jesus Christ. Genealogy has been part of my life ever since.

At 5/26/2008 5:51 PM, Blogger Michele Holmes said...

Thank you again for sharing both your soul and your beautiful gift with words. I so enjoy your posts and wisdom.

At 5/26/2008 6:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I went back to the cemetary late last night to retrieve some flowers and keep them safe until today when who would I run into, none other than the infamous Kerry Blair with a sliegh filled with flower arrangements. And, of course, I couldn't help but ask her for an inteview. She agreed.

Ly: Just a few hours till it ticks over to the big day.

Kerry: What are you doing with those flowers?

Ly: Look. I'm not really a professional.

Kerry: I knew that.

Ly: So you won't mind if there's a few grammar problems?

Kerry: I've read your work. You may want to get a spellchecker.

Ly: They have those in rural Arizona?

Kerry: We have a bookstore.

Ly: So what brings you all the way from Arizon to Lake View Memorial Estates in on a blustury Sunday evening in Utah?

Kerry: Would you ask Santa Clause why he's doing the chimney thing on the 24th?

Ly: I see your point. So exactly what do we call you? I mean, Christmas has a Clause, Easter has a bunny, Halloween has a whole cast of volunteer secondary characters.

Kerry: You think I'm a secondary character?

Ly: Volunteer maybe. I just don't recall a mascot associated with Memorial Day.

Kerry: You miss the entire point.

Ly: That wouldn't be the first time.

Kerry: The Easter Bunny isn't real.

Ly: Right.

Kerry: Its all about the characters you don't see.

Ly: I have friends like that. Did you ever see A Beautfiul Mind with Russell Crowe, Ed Harris and Jennifer Connelly. Great flick.

Kerry: It wouldn't be the first time.

Ly: Then you have seen it?

Kerry: Its really getting late.

Ly: So Memorial Day. You're the patron saint, is that it?

Kerry: I'm a Latter-day Saint.

Ly: Is that out on DVD?

Kerry: Its on a name tag. It comes with a thirty minute lesson. Look. Are you going to put those flowers back where they belong?

Ly: They're fake.

Kerry: I just hate those.

Ly: Sorry.

Kerry: Just like last year.

Ly: You where here?

Kerry: Thanks for the cookies and milk.

Ly: It was soy.

Kerry: That explains a lot.

Ly: You really are the Memorial Day Mascot.

Kerry: Aren't we all?

I ended the interview rather abruptly. Its a technique I learned from Wells. But I did hear Kerry exalim, ere she drove out of sight, "Happy Memorial day to all, and to all a good-night."

Thanks Kerry!

PS: She also said to call 800-flowers next year.

At 5/26/2008 10:24 PM, Blogger Julie Wright said...

I am so in awe of you every time I learn more of you. What a raw and beautiful post. Thank you.

At 5/27/2008 12:40 AM, Blogger Kerry Blair said...

Thanks to everyone who took time from a busy holiday to read and comment. It means the world to me.

Ly, I fear there is no appropriate response to you...ever. :) All that talent and nary an adverb in sight. I'll just correct you on one tiny point: Here in Arizona, fake flowers are the only way to go. Fresh posies don't last five minutes on Sonoran soil -- hallowed ground though it may be.

At 5/27/2008 1:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


There are, actually, two derivations for the name Ly. One, of course, is its association with certain descriptive word choices which, if used, will uterly destroy any run of pros and should be shunned at all costs.

The second, and my preference, is a more charitable derivation for sure and you have exactly seven days to figure it out. If you succeed I will send you a signed copy of the first book to come off the press, cross my heart. Which is also the first clue to the second derivation of Ly. Good luck my dearest. May the Memorial Day Flower Girl Claus be with you.


At 5/27/2008 1:12 AM, Blogger Kerry Blair said...

How many guesses do I get?

At 5/27/2008 1:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's one.

At 5/27/2008 1:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nine to go.

Clue #2:

Sincerely Yours...

At 5/27/2008 10:27 AM, Blogger Pat said...

Kerry, I really enjoyed this post. My mother also loved Memorial Day, and always made it a special day for us - visiting all the graves of family members, and telling us stories about them - usually ending with a picnic somewhere.
Good times.
Thanks for sharing!

At 5/27/2008 1:19 PM, Blogger Cheri J. Crane said...

Amen, Kerry. Spot on, as always. =)

At 5/27/2008 7:04 PM, Blogger Karlene said...

Kerry, that was a beautiful post. Thank you so much for the inspiration.

At 5/30/2008 2:15 AM, Blogger Stephanie Abney said...

Kerry ~

Once again, you amaze me. For whatever strange reason, this memorial day was difficult for me and for the first time in over 30 years, I did not join the rest of the extended family in decorating the graves. I still haven't gone there yet, but I hope to make it tomorrow. I think I just need to sit by my son's grave alone... without dozens of cousins and aunts and uncles and children and grandchildren (we are quite an intimidating crowd when we show up). And I just haven't been able to go yet. Odd... it's been eight years and I've always gone but this year I wasn't up to it although my thoughts were there and I only just read your post tonight and I wanted to thank you for it. You are a marvel. I love you.


At 5/30/2008 6:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stephanie A.
I am feeling with you. I spent nearly twenty years visiting our son's grave each year. Having to pay attention to others when you need to be alone with your thoughts is hard. I hope you get a chance to go and feel peace and love.

Oh, Kerry,

I made a resolve about a month ago just to read blogs once a week so I missed this until today. I started getting goose bumps about the third paragraph down, and they just continuted and continued until it is surprising that I can even type since they spread even to my finger tips--or that's how it feels.

My family and ward think there is no way that I could love family history more than I already do, but you have touched me even more deeply. What a profound dream. What a wonderful, loving and profound person to have such a dream and to share it with us.

Thank you.



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