Memorial Day often signifies the start of summer. Maybe it’s a day to find good deals at a furniture store or car dealership. Some might even look forward to having a day off of work, grilling outdoors with family or friends, and maybe catching a baseball game.

But what is Memorial Day really about?

I am a proud military wife to an American soldier. Each year I develop a deeper appreciation for this holiday because of the many sacrifices our military makes for our freedom.

This year it takes on a new meaning for me - along with many others that have ever lost a loved one in the service. We’ve stood at the grave site of a fallen soldier. We’ve seen the American flag draped over the coffin. We’ve watched as their brothers in arms carried the casket. We’ve shed heartbroken tears at the funeral of a veteran, brother, daughter or friend. And we have felt the unbelievable pain from loss.

Today is the day that we honor the memory of all our service members that are no longer with us today!

Memorial Day is separate and very distinct from other holidays like Veteran’s Day - although they do have similarities. So what is the difference? 

According to PBS, “Since the earliest ceremonies in small American towns following the Civil War, we have gathered on Memorial Day to honor and remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our nation. As in those early days of laying wreaths and placing flags, our national day of remembrance is often felt most deeply among the families and communities who have personally lost friends and loved ones. The mission of Memorial Day is to reach out in support of all the soldiers and their families who have sacrificed so much for us.”

On this day, we pay our respects and give thanks for those that have passed away on the battlefield and at home. It is a day dedicated to recognizing the men and women that served and paid the ultimate sacrifice.

So before you start the grill and prepare your famous potato salad for the Memorial Day cookout - pray for the families and loved ones that are missing someone at their picnic table today. Pray for the ones that have lost someone special and might be hurting today.

In light of those that given so much and lost their lives for our freedom, what can we do to support the families left behind and other living veterans?

1. Honor and remember those that have gone before us. Visit a war memorial in your area. Place flowers at the grave or honor their memory by paying your respects with family members of the fallen.

2. Donate your time, talents or resources to local reputable veteran organizations. Find an organization that honors and advocates for veterans and families that have lost loved in service to their nation. Some families will often hold a bake sale, cookout, and other events to help offset financial costs or raise awareness for veterans. Genuine support and reverence really goes a long way.

3. Support local Honor Flights. These flights provide the opportunity for older Veterans of WWII, Korean and Vietnam Wars to visit the national memorials to remember their fallen comrades. Check to see if there are Honor Flights in your area.

4. Volunteer at a cemetery or visit a Veteran home. You can volunteer to lay flowers or flags at a veteran or local cemetery. Maybe visit the aging Veterans in your communities to hear them tell their stories. Also check the VA website for specific Memorial Day needs by state.

5. Fly an American flag at your home or wear patriotic colors. Keep in mind that flags are typically flown at half staff today in honor of the service members. Also, if you see a flag that is damaged or not displayed correctly please kindly inform the business or neighbor so they may properly show respect. Learn more about properly displaying the flag with the American Legion.