Life is a series of sunsets and sunrises. While many of us were planning fun activities for the long Memorial Day weekend, celebrating the unofficial first day of summer, many of our fellow Americans are also deep in the world of memory, their hearts tender with loss. Too often, Memorial Day passes without people really thinking about why the day is a federal holiday.

Memorial Day was `born’ due to the deaths of so many Americans during the tragic Civil War. It was first named Decoration Day, because of the act of loved ones placing flowers on the endless graves. To stand at the gravesite of a person who paid the ultimate price is a poignant moment, a humbling moment.

As president Barack Obama once said, “Our nation owes a debt to its fallen heroes that we can never repay.”

It is hard to imagine the pain felt by family and loved ones when they learned of the sacrifice their loved ones made for us all. This grief is one that remains. When we learn of the death of another American soldier we grieve again.

We as a country need to remember the pain that has been laid down for our freedoms. Yes, enjoy your picnics, enjoy your getaways, enjoy your happy times with people you love. All those Americans who lost their lives want you to enjoy the freedoms they fought for. But stop and say a prayer for these beloveds who are gone, as well as a prayer for all who have lost loved ones.

We are the United States of America. We are united in grief, hope, good times and the bad.

The first time I went to Washington D.C. and tread the sacred grounds of Arlington National Cemetery, my still young mind could not fully understand the holiness of where I stood. So much death was impossible to comprehend.

 I had heard all my uncles’ stories when they returned from World War II. How they cried when they told of a pal being in the foxholes, talking, and then the sound when the bullet hit his friend mid-word. My uncles came home with medals they were ashamed of because they kept asking why they were alive and their friends were dead.

I did not grasp the enormity of it all. I could not understand why we were still having these wars that killed so many.

Then I went to Pacific Palisades High school and met so many great kids with their lives still spread out before them. But Vietnam happened, and it was as if a tornado had hit our community.

It was staggering, the number of people I knew, even guys I had dated, who died “over there.” I sure got it then. Suddenly all the numbers were people I knew. I have honored Memorial Day with deep sincerity ever since.

When I moved to Los Banos and began writing for the paper, I learned more from being involved with the San Juaquin national cemetery, located in Santa Nella. I sat on the platform there endless times. I heard the tributes to fallen heroes, and shook when the honor jets soared above us.

I truly listened to the words of songs I had heard all my life, but there the words were like bullets of emotion. I felt such a need to honor and remember all those who had given so much. How can we not feel humbled?

Still, I am sadly aware that the loss of a loved one, soldier or not, is a pain that is a forever passenger in our hearts. We all have passengers, some of us so very many. Each Memorial Day I make a point to set aside time to hold my memories of these loved ones in my hand. I caress them with love and longing, appreciation and gratitude.

In the recent past, I personally, and the Los Banos community, lost two longtime residents. Eilleen Sorensen and I had been friends for about 25 years, but I believe that every person who met amazing Eillen became her friend.

The hardware store Eilleen and her beloved founded, is still a reliable source for solid products at solid prices for the west central valley. Eilleen had been a World War II bride and used to charm me with her stories. She was an active member of the United Methodist Church and had been very active in its Women’s Group.

An avid reader, Eilleen and I were together in the Valley Girls Book Club for many years along with our mutual friend, Jean Willis. Eilleen and I formed the Los Banos Alzheimer Support Group which is still thriving about 30 years later with Linda Kujawa now in charge. Eilleen cared so much for people and volunteered in so many areas over her very long life that was still too short.

It was my honor to give her a 97th birthday party. It was a delightful affair and Eilleen was so pleased to be recognized for her contributions by the then Mayor of Los Banos, Mike Villalta, and then District five Supervisor, Jerry O Banion. Her life was a perfect example of how to live fully, give completely and be loved by many.

Jean Willis loved her home on sixth street, her family and her cats. Jean had a great passion all her life for learning and was one of the most intelligent women I have ever known. Jean led our book club for many years and helped cultivate lively discussions. Jean loved being a member of the United Methodist Church and loved her adopted home of Los Banos. I feel a great loss in my own life as Los Banos has lost two wonderful citizens.

While the earth puts on its beautiful show with the bright sun, abundant flowers, longer days and life full of promise, let us all remember those we have lost and especially remember to praise and treasure those who are still present in our life. One word that helps you live a fuller life is mindfulness. Let us all strive to always be more mindful.

Diana J. Ingram

Diana Ingram has been a columnist for Los Banos newspapers for four decades.