Holiday Memories: Red, White, or Blue?

A personal message from: Richard Fife, President of the Foundation for End of Life Care

As the summer comes to a close I am reminded again of the most important holiday of the summer. Holidays bring back memories.  The Fourth of July evokes images of parades, fireworks, watermelons, picnics, and flag waving. Independence Day that we celebrated last month has been all of that to me too – and more. 

Three poignant memories come to mind…

The first was when I was in graduate school working on my doctorate at Drew University in New Jersey.  It was 1976, the summer of the nation’s bicentennial.  On the morning of July 4th, a group of us at Drew caught the train to Philadelphia.  That afternoon we heard a young Jesse Jackson give a rousing Independence Day speech.  It was entitled “The Crack in the Liberty Bell,” and he spoke standing right beside that revered American icon.  His speech was patriotic, affirming our liberty, but to him the crack in the bell’s metal was a physical reminder of the many Americans who would wait almost another century for a chance of freedom in a land that had practiced slavery.  That day in 1976 spoke to me of freedom – and the lack thereof for many.

The second memory was 20 years later.  My older brother, Edward, then in his mid-fifties had a brain tumor that would radically shorten his life.  He decided on July 4 to stop the experimental medical procedures, accept his fate and come onto a hospice program.  It was a day that spoke to me of death and acceptance.

The third memory was 18 years ago in a little town in Tennessee near the Kentucky border.  What brought my wife, Carol, and me to this place on July 4th was the impending birth of our first grandchild, Elizabeth.  The day spoke to me of new life.  Ever since that day we have celebrated the Fourth of July with Elizabeth and her family.

I mention these memories to point out the variety of emotions they conjure for me during this summertime holiday. It is a time of celebration, of sober reflection, a time of sadness as well as a time of joy.  And I am no different than any of you or the hospice patients and families that the Foundation cares about.  When those of us who have worked in bereavement talk about how the holidays affect grief, we are usually talking about the traditions of November and December.  However, each holiday holds its own memories and Independence Day is no different. It was always more than watermelons, fireworks and picnics.  It was fighting for freedom and affirming life-changing events. 

At each holiday I encourage you to reflect on the emotions evoked by what seems to be a simple, straight-forward holiday. And remember those who grieve, for whom each holiday may have its own poignant memories.