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MEMORIAL DAY BRINGS LIFE AND LOVED ONES INTO FOCUS

SHARE MEMORIAL DAY BRINGS LIFE AND LOVED ONES INTO FOCUS

As we look ahead to Memorial Day weekend, I think about preparing our first potato salad of the season, dusting off our picnic basket and calling neighbors to gather for softball and bratwurst at our community park. It's the official "picnic season" opener.

But for the past few years, this national holiday has taken on a new dimension of meaning for my family. We've made a point to set aside Saturday morning for an annual visit to the cemetery, where our kids' grandfather, great-grandparents and my husband's twin brother are buried. We bring along blooming flowers to plant on the knoll where the kids find the Erickson name on the markers. My husband trims the overgrown grass around the marker of his father's grave, and we reminisce, sharing family stories such as the day Great-grandpa Art taught my now 13-year-old how to make a slingshot.When the mosquitoes get the best of us, the kids run down the hillside counting the red, white and blue flags blowing in the breeze, symbols of the wars they know little about. Finally, at the bottom of the road, we look for simple, weather-worn markers of the relatives who emigrated from Sweden over a hundred years ago. They were the Nelsons and the Petersons. My children are descendants of these people who, arriving without a cent to their name, were driven by a will and determination to forge a better life in a new country. As beneficiaries of their struggles and dreams for the next generation, we try to remember and to pass their values and hopes on to our children of a very different century.

We pile back in the car, stop by McDonald's for lunch and, once home, the kids scamper off in all directions to do what kids do on a Saturday afternoon.

Death is one of those topics we shy away from. Sometimes it takes the loss of a gerbil, a pet goldfish or the coming of Memorial Day weekend to bring it into focus - a reminder that each of us is part of something much bigger than the small world we stumble around in day to day.