Updated on 10.15.14

A Memorial Day Tribute to People That Mattered to Me

Trent Hamm

Memorial Day is a holiday that was originally created to honor deceased soldiers, but has largely grown over the years to honor all deceased people. As a way of commemorating this day, I usually spend some time thinking about what some of the people in my life that have passed on have taught me, and this year, I decided to share five of them with you.

I could easily expand this list with more people – and I might just do it in future years. However, remembering these five and the gifts they gave me in their life and in their passing has filled me with enough emotion to last a month.

I hope that something I do in my life leaves others with something positive in their lives that outlives me. If I’ve done that, then I’ve lived a life worth living.

A Memorial Day Tribute to 5 Important People In My Life

1. My grandfather, Johnnie

Grandpa passed away when I was seven years old. During the last year of his life, he was very ill and he lived with us for several months near the end of his life. One of my fondest memories of him was watching the 1985 World Series with him in our living room.

I remember how he bore the many pains that the end of his life held for him with grace and dignity. I remember seeing him a few times and knowing that he was in pain, yet he was always able to grab my hand and smile at me with that gently crooked smile of his. I remember that, without fail, he’d save the comics in the newspaper for me, not for anyone else, and he remembered this even through the trials he faced near the end of his life.

He showed me how to face pain and adversity with dignity and grace, something that I’ve tried to do in my own life many times.

2. My great uncle, Virgil

Virgil attacked life with humor and a lust for simply living. He was the type of person who would often stick real truths into the middle of a humorous comment and thus get away with saying things that others wouldn’t or couldn’t.

Virgil was the first person in my life who convinced me that I would actually do something with my life that was different than what my parents had done. Yes, I had the childish dreams of doing things like being an astronaut or a fireman, but it was Virgil that really made me believe I could tread my own path through life.

He showed me that my path wasn’t set in stone and that I could define my own way.

3. My first cousin, Donnie

Donnie was almost exactly my age. We played together quite a lot when we were young and I have several very nice childhood memories that Donnie is a part of.

At age 16, Donnie committed suicide. I remember going to his funeral, almost stunned that someone who had been my age and shared many moments of my childhood with me could just be gone, just like that. It made me realize how mortal I really was.

Perhaps more importantly, it also showed me how your actions can echo through the lives of those you care about. When you hurt yourself or hurt someone else, that action affects a lot of people. It brings them grief and sadness. When you hurt a human being, you almost always hurt a lot of people at once, whether you see it or not.

4. My great grandmother, Elva

All of my memories of this lady come from the final twenty or so years of her life, when she lived alone in a house well into her upper eighties. She was stubbornly independent and absolutely insisted on doing things for herself, often pushing herself to complete exhaustion in an effort to just do it herself.

I remember often wondering how this little old lady managed to keep her home clean, feed herself and keep food in the refrigerator, send an endless supply of letters to friends and family members, keep up with the hockey season (she was a Wisconsin girl and liked hockey her whole life), and all of the other things she did. She seemed so small and frail until you talked to her and watched her take care of things.

Her bravery and desire for independence was infectious, to say the least.

5. My uncle, Kenny

Kenny passed away from a liver condition several years ago. More than anyone else, Kenny showed me that it’s okay to be whoever you are, no matter the seeming consequences.

Kenny’s life rejected so many of the expectations people had for him, from beginning to end. He truly did things his own way and he realized that the people that really mattered would stick with him throughout it.

It was because of Kenny that I’m not really ashamed of anything I do. I am who I am, and take me for that. The people that matter in my life certainly do take me for who I am.

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  1. Borealis says:

    I guess some people think that Memorial Day “has largely grown over the years to honor all deceased people.”

    That view pretty much proves why we need Memorial Day. It is fine to honor the deceased people you name who taught you important things. Of course you know those people and can name what they gave to you.

    Unfortunately, Trent forgot that there are millions of Americans who gave their life so that Trent and his family can live in freedom. No obedience to royalty, no slavery, no Nazi gestapo, no Sharia Law.

    Trent cannot name the people who gave their lives for our freedom. Neither can I.

    That is why we have Memorial Day.

  2. Jan says:

    Here are 540 of them. Those that died in 2011. A name with a face gives it a personal flavor even though we don’t know them.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wmm9_JBGK8M

  3. valleycat1 says:

    I’m with Borealis & Jan on this one. I don’t know anyone who has expanded the definition of Memorial Day to include anyone who has died. A better post would be honoring all young people unknown to you whose ultimate sacrifice means you live in a world where you don’t know anyone who’s died in combat.

  4. Carol says:

    I have never heard of Memorial Day being celebrated for anything except for those who gave their lives for our country…???

  5. Sonja says:


  6. Evangeline says:

    Memorial Day is for honoring those who past away while serving their country, which originated as Decoration Day. Looks like a lot of creative license going on here.

  7. Kate says:

    I, too, was unaware that Memorial Day is a day to honor all deceased people.

  8. Esme says:

    Regardless of whether it’s a day for honoring all deceased or only those in the service, it’s nice that Trent’s post acknowledges Memorial Day as a day of remembrance, instead of it just being used as a ‘woohoo long weekend beer BBQ and sports!’ excuse that so many people do nowadays.

  9. Georgia says:

    In our town, we remember our veterans and what they did for us. But we also remember all those who died and left us bereft. I am thankful for all who served our country, but I also us this time to remember my dad & mom, my in-laws, my dear husband and many more.

    Memories cover so many people and I don’t think remembering those around us can ever be wrong.

    All of you who feel Memorial Day is only for those who died for our country, you must be missing out on most of our country. We no longer think of it as a day to remember, but as a holiday where we get off work and can party for the whole weekend. I think Trent’s memories are much nicer than that. Thanks Trent.

  10. Borealis says:

    You have the freedom to make Memorial Day whatever you want it to be, whether it be BBQs and sports, or remembering deceased loved ones.

    Of course your freedom was dearly paid for by the blood of millions who died and who risked their lives. Whether you appreciate them or not is your morals and ethics, not mine.

    Freedom is not free.

  11. Andrew says:

    If the powers that be (or, technically, the powers that WERE some 40 years ago) were so concerned that Memorial Day be more than just a long weekend, they should never have changed it to one of the “Monday” holidays.

    They didn’t dare do it to the 4th of July, and they had to rescind the change to Veteran’s Day when veteran’s groups objected.

    Decoupling holidays from their original date robs them of meaning. Despite official blather, Memorial Day is well on its way to becoming just like President’s Day and Labor Day–days when we honor the almighty dollar and the nonstop party, and not much else.

    What a shame.

  12. Mark Gavagan says:

    Trent. Why are you blocking my comments (e.g., 4:34 am May 31st, 2011)?

  13. JS says:

    I’ve also never heard of Memorial Day being used to honor all deceased people. Trent, is it a regional custom? Lots of people in the Southwest region of the US, particularly those of Mexican descent, honor their dead on the Day of the Dead (Nov 1-2), but I got blank looks when I mentioned it to my relatives in the Northeast.

  14. gail says:

    This is exactly why I am so glad the powers that be did not declare September 11th a National holiday. I think I would lose it if I saw a store advertising a 9/11 sale on washers and dryers.
    That being said, I think Trent honoring those who died is not disrespectful, as long as he also honors those who fought and died for our country.

  15. Mark Gavagan says:


    The suggestion that Memorial Day has “has largely grown over the years to honor all deceased people” is disgraceful.

    While the people you mention Trent are obviously and justifiably very dear to you, Memorial Day is about honoring and remembering those who have given their lives in service to our country.

    Watch video wK0T4pVHP28 on YouTube (enter it in the site’s search box) to see the purpose of this day.

  16. prodgod says:

    I know a great many people who honor their deceased relatives on Memorial Day – I’m surprised that this is so “unheard of.” In fact, there is a church in town that conducts Memorial Day services at all of the local cemeteries for their members to honor their loved ones. This is all separate from (or in addition to) any military observations.

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