This article was shared from DiversityInc and written by DiversityInc Staff Chris Wilson on May 22, 2017

On Memorial Day, many well-intentioned people take time to tell the veterans in their lives, “Thank you for your service.” This common misconception, that Memorial Day is a time to thank veterans, is not in fact what the holiday is intended for. “Memorial Day is essentially the one day that we should remember all veterans that have died, whether that is from combat, everyday accidents or just the natural course of dying of old age,” said Chris Wilson, VP of major accounts at DiversityInc. “You ‘memorialize’ those that would help our country by serving in the American military.”

For many Americans, Memorial Day is “the unofficial start of summer,” a day off of work and the perfect day for a barbecue. But for some veterans, Chris explained, Memorial Day could in fact be a very difficult day. Rather than being a day to thank living veterans for their service, Memorial Day is a day to remember veterans who are no longer with us, whether they died in combat or not.

Chris served active duty in the United States Marine Corps from 2007 to 2012 as an Infantry Officer, serving deployments to Afghanistan in 2009 and 2011. He did lose friends in combat. And for veterans, Memorial Day could be similar to the first holiday you celebrate after losing a loved one.

“We often hear that when people pass, the first ‘holiday’ season is very hard because they are not at the dinner table or opening presents,” Chris said. “The first couple of Memorial Days out of active-duty service can be the same.”

This is not to say that all veterans will have a difficult day. Some veterans will be fine that weekend, perhaps if they were not traumatized by combat or did not experience death firsthand. But for others, Memorial Day could bring a flood of painful memories.

“People need to recognize that other veterans may have memories of combat, almost dying, buddies dying, killing people, and so many other things can erupt during this weekend of emotions,” Chris said. Rather than approaching your veterans and saying, “Thank you for your service,” “Is this a difficult weekend for you” or “Did you lose friends during your service time?” Chris suggests saying something along the lines of:

“Enjoy your weekend – hope you are able to take a moment to remember what this holiday is about.”

“Enjoy your weekend, and I will be thinking about those that are no longer with us.”

“I will be taking a moment this weekend to honor those that served our nation and are no longer with us.”

For loved ones who are grieving, please know Unity counselors are here should you need additional support.

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