Is it Memorial Day weekend again already?
To me, it feels like it was just a few months ago. Like it was just yesterday that we went from being a family of three to a family of two. Or like it was just recently that we went from celebrating Memorial Day with BBQs and sleeping in to taking time out to not only consider our fallen loved one but all those who have served and sacrificed in this way.
And there are so many...
Surprisingly, though there are so many who still wish others a "Happy Memorial Day" or are quick to laud the celebration of an additional day off (for most folks, because lots of people still have to work), as if that is the most important thing to be considered. And until August 2005, our family was the same way.
I hope you don't understand what it's like because if you do, it means you have experienced the death of a spouse or child in service to our country. It's heart-wrenching. The loss itself is devastating, but it is not really yours alone. You have to share the loss of your loved one with so many others, many who were brave and served alongside, some who were there when he or she was injured or killed, and those who are also learning to live life differently with a gaping hole in their hearts.
I'm so grateful to God for this newer (more healed) perspective that has taken quite some time and respect to come to. Memorial Day is no longer a day when I want to hide away crying, asking questions that will never be answered. It is also no longer a day when I get angry seeing people's posts about all of the fun that they're having. Truly. Every day that you have to be with friends and family should be treasured.
I say, have all the fun. Eat all the BBQ. Laugh with your friends. Take that extra-long nap. Squeeze in as much living as you can while practicing these three things this Memorial Day weekend.
- Take time out from the festivities to observe the purpose of the day. This doesn't even have to be on Memorial Day itself, but sometime over the weekend, set aside some time to actively remember those who served in our armed forces and paid the "ultimate price" for your blessing of liberty. The Memorial Day Foundation does a great job of explaining the things you can do but also why you would do them. Since our move from Wisconsin where my husband is buried, we have been eager to find ways in our new community here in north Texas to connect with others to actively observe Memorial Day. Thankfully, we've connected with people who know of our loss and last year invited us to participate in the Carry the Load event ending in Dallas. Yes, I'll have a small pack of tissues on me as we walk and yes, there'll be tears, but I believe it will be good because we'll be doing it together.
- Refrain from wishing people a happy Memorial Day. It's not a "happy" day. As painful as it sometimes is to be reminded of a death in the armed services, we're grateful for be a day when people set aside moments to reflect together on their willingness to serve and sacrifice in military service. And though many of the memorial activities are somber and serious, we hope people take the time out to remember them ... with us. Let us tell the stories—which may make you laugh. Let us tell you the memories—which may make you cry. Call us, text us, invite us to spend time with you doing nothing. Please don't make us feel like pariahs or like we're too fragile to open up and share our hearts with you. We want to. Don't be afraid of our sadness on this day. Please don't be fearful of our pain. It's not a happy time, but there can still be good parts to the day.
- Save thanking veterans for Veterans Day. I'll admit, I don't even know what to say to the Marines who served with our guy when Veterans Day comes around. I've read and heard about how weird it is when people thank them for their service. But even more awkward is when someone thanks living veterans for their service on a day set aside for those who died while doing what they also did ... but survived. Instead, consider the pearls of wisdom in this article and take some time this Memorial Day to plan how you might be able to be supportive of veterans and their needs throughout the entire year.
Whatever you decide to do, take some time to reflect on Memorial Day, the experiences of those who are still learning to live without their loved ones every day, and the people who answered "yes" to the call with all they had to give.
Our guest blogger is Ellen Urbani, author of "When I Was Elena." We are discussing her book at tonight's Reading Women book club.
The summer of 2015 marked nearly 25 years since I'd last gathered en masse with my Theta sisters. We'd been members of Delta Omicron at the University of Alabama in the late '80s, back when hair was bigger and pearls were de rigueur, before tornadoes wiped out the east side of campus, before New Orleans sank beneath hurricane waters, and before babies and husbands and careers monopolized our days. It would never again be like it had once been.
Until it was. Until it was ... better.
In the late summer of 2015, I embarked on a national book tour with my latest book, Landfall, a work of contemporary historical fiction set Alabama and Louisiana in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. I took my 10-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son with me on a trek that started at the eastern seaboard and wended its way toward Texas, hoping to introduce them to the South I always loved but have long-since left; the South I adore for its hospitality and graciousness and warmth of spirit. I wanted them to meet the ghost of the girl I had once been.
Instead, they met my family.
In state after state, in bookstore after bookstore, my sisters turned out to welcome me home. Not just my immediate sisters, mind you: meaning not just Delta Omicrons, though they turned out in droves, showing up with friends and family at every single stop on my 20-city national tour. (Heck: one fellow sister who couldn't make it sent her mother in her stead; another sent her husband and his work colleagues; yet another crossed three state lines to hug me in person.) But sisters I never knew I had showed up too, spurred by a handwritten note I'd sent to Theta alumnae groups in cities throughout the South - cities where I didn't know a soul and had nightmares about taking the stage before a roomful of empty chairs. Alumnae groups in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas - as well as parts of Alabama I'd never called home - turned out to fill those seats, cheer me on, and make sure that at not one single place in all of my travels did I ever feel either lonely or unsupported.
It was a gift of sisterhood unlike anything I had ever witnessed, and the truest demonstration of the motto "Theta for a lifetime" that one could conceive.
I have always thought that joining Kappa Alpha Theta Fraternity was one of the smartest choices I made in college. You all have now convinced me that it is one of the smartest choices I have made in my life. Thank you, everyone. Your love makes my heart swell anew, a quarter-century later.
Oftentimes, feelings of depression, anxiety and stress are likely to build during this time. If you have lost a loved one or are struggling with change in your family, this may be a time when the change may feel more prominent. Your family may need to alter a tradition or celebrate in a different way to alleviate some of the pain.
If symptoms of anxiety or depression are keeping you company this holiday season, don't lose hope. Take the first step to a better place by taking Kappa Alpha Theta's online screening on the Sisters Supporting Sisters page.
After his high school years, as he started college, he began a battle with depression, and it often reared its ugly head and interfered with his lifetime dream of being a nurse. He struggled to complete classes even though he was more than capable. However, he finally achieved this goal and graduated from University of Nebraska Medical Center with honors. He also found a beautiful and caring girl he wanted to marry and was soon to be engaged. We were so very happy to see him achieve some of his major goals, and actually felt a sense of relief that he "conquered" depression and not the reverse. However, this disease is sneaky and often silent. It is most difficult to understand.
Adam described himself as "trying" to be happy like the people he saw around him. Sometimes it was situational, sometimes not...he just couldn't find relief from this chronic, horrid plague. Even though he achieved the exact job he desired at Bryan Health's cardiac ICU and was successful in his position... Even though he was respected by other staff and frequently requested by patients because he was strong, trusting, and intelligent... Even though he knew beyond all doubt that he was greatly loved by his family, his brothers and sisters, mom and dad, and seven nieces and nephews... He was bound by the ever-tightening ropes of depression, and it caused him to take his life on April 16, 2010. He lost his battle.
It's a stark reality our family faces, not only on special days but every day. Family gatherings are just not the same. We all miss him so very much. We continue to ask the question, "Is there something we missed? Something more we could have done?" We are thankful. Thankful for the 33 years we had together and thankful for the memories. Thankful that God continues to carry us through each day and gives us opportunities to reach out and help others who may themselves struggle with depression, know of someone who struggles with depression, or who have lost a loved one to suicide because of depression.
Depression is a disease with a stigma. This week is National Suicide Prevention Week, a time to promote awareness of suicide prevention and to encourage others to seek help. I recently read a study that stated less than 20 percent of college students who struggle with depression seek help. This stigma often prevents people from seeking help or following recommendations. It often is a quiet disease and can be well hidden. Or not. It has many faces. Some faces are not able to get out of bed. Other faces may be that roommate or sorority sister or classmate you never would have suspected. These faces are male, female, young, old, of higher or lower economic status, higher or lower intellectual abilities, educated, not educated, successful or struggling to become successful.
Through our loss of Adam, the Run to Overcome was born. Our family met and partnered with Bryan Health so that more people can be reached and become aware of the huge numbers of individuals who are affected by this disease in some way, so that somehow the stigma may begin to fade and lives are saved. We work hard at bringing something positive from this huge loss.
The 4th Annual Run to Overcome will be held at Lincoln Southwest High School (Lincoln, Neb.) on September 28. This event is most certainly not a day of doom and gloom, but a day that families, individuals, and groups come out to show support and celebrate life. Our goal is to increase registrations and reach a goal of 2,000. For more information and to register, visit the Bryan Health website.
Following her death, my sister and I reflected on our life with our mother, and the pieces to a puzzle seemed to fall into place. We realized that Mom had most likely suffered from forms of depression for many years dating back to when I was in preschool. It saddened me to think that she had suffered internally for so many years—without seeking help and without anyone recognizing what she had been dealing with. Very likely, she didn't even recognize her symptoms of depression and likened it to stress instead.
My mother was not a Panhellenic woman, though she raised two daughters who eventually would join Phi Sigma Sigma and Kappa Alpha Theta. I often wonder if had she been a member of a Panhellenic sorority, would she have received the support she needed? Would one of her sisters have reached out to her and encouraged her to seek help? Would they even had recognized the signs of depression and known how to approach her? Would getting this help early on have assisted my mother in overcoming the physical battles that plagued her?
I will never know the answers to these questions. What I do know is that I have the opportunity to help my sisters recognize the signs of depression and other issues of emotional well-being so that they have the tools to help friends in similar situations. No sister should struggle alone. No sister should go without hope.
May is Mental Health Month. Please take the time to learn about mental health illnesses and their symptoms. We have resources on our Sisters Supporting Sisters web page. You can also visit Mental Health America's website for more information on how to get support or help a friend. Maybe you can be the difference in a sister's life and give her hope.
So it's natural that we'd be excited to think that as our daughters entered college, they could follow in our Theta footsteps. In recent years, we may have closely watched our friends' daughter's recruitment stories on Facebook, with anticipation and excitement, and responded with "Congratulations!" when we saw the good news that another legacy had pledged Theta. Some of us even imagined surprising our own daughters for their initiation into our sisterhood, passing down our treasured badge and welcoming her to all things black and gold.
But for some of us, when our daughters called with the news that they'd found the right fit (and it didn't happen to be with a kite or pansies), we may have found ourselves disappointed, sad, shocked, or even disillusioned with the Greek system in general, or Theta in particular. How could my beautiful daughter not be a Theta?
When my daughter began recruitment, I gave her all of the motherly advice anyone would give: enjoy the process, be true to yourself, follow your heart (translation: pledge your legacy). But as recruitment continued, it became clear that it was more important for me to support her in her decision than it was to have her live my dream. The 'legacy' that I want for her is one that she can experience with any group of letters of her T-shirt, and I'm forever thankful that I had the foresight to know that.
Allowing her to experience the special gift of Greek life was more important to me than which chapter she chose. When she texted me her first photo with her bid card for Kappa Kappa Gamma, I was proud of her and delighted that she found her fit. "Kite and Key!" was my swift response back to her (along with a few love emoticons), and the clear message that I was ecstatic that she could create her own legacy of experiences.
A year later, while at a Theta conference, my next daughter called me at midnight (really, you can't make this stuff up!) to say she'd been offered a bid as a charter member of Kappa Delta, I was once again proud of my ever-expanding Panhellenic Family!
To know that my daughters are part of the bigger picture of Greek life is an overwhelming sense of satisfaction and pride. We share the legacy of sorority and what that means as college women. We can enjoy the common purpose of living a life of values and friendship, and can unite in our promise to be the very best that our sisterhood embodies.
If you are struggling with this or feel deflated, I hope that you'll be kinder to yourself and know that the Panhellenic experience, while perhaps different than what we might have imagined for our daughters, is every bit as wonderful and special as our Theta experience. Bask in the celebrations that the Panhellenic opportunity provides for all our college women, and know that we're already good role models for our daughters, as they see us living the Greek experience.
So, when my youngest daughter starts college next fall, I know she'll go through recruitment with the knowledge and belief that she's entering an amazing experience—with the full support of her Panhellenic family behind her.