Congress officially declared Memorial Day a federal holiday in 1971. In the 49 years since then, we’ve never had a Memorial Day like the one we’ll have Monday. Like many other holidays and milestones, it will be commemorated differently this year.
With over 90,000 Americans dead from COVID-19, it’s an important time to honor lost life. On Memorial Day we pay homage to people who died serving in the US military. During war and crises like the COVID-19 pandemic, we lose people on a mass scale. In each case, grief can be collective and individual. Humans have no finite amount of love and care. With that in mind, we can use the day to honor both people who died in war and those who died of the virus.
That said, Memorial Day is also a time for cookouts and parties and marking the unofficial start of summer. What does it look like to celebrate summer during a pandemic? The good news is that you can still go outside, which is one of the main reasons we celebrate summer anyway. The sun stays out later; we can be outside until 8pm and it’s still light out.
In fact, outside is one of the safer places to be right now—as long as you practice social distancing. It’s not safe to have a giant cookout with everyone sharing food. But it is okay to sit in an outdoor space with a few friends. People who don’t live in the same household should stay six feet apart and bring their own food. You can think of it as the pandemic version of a potluck.
I’ve also found it helpful to acknowledge the things that are the same. If you like to barbecue on Memorial Day, you can still do that. As long as there’s not a shortage of the ingredients you need, you can cook whatever foods you usually eat that day. If you don’t want to cook, many restaurants are open for takeout. And the outdoors is the outdoors—it’s still the unofficial start of summer outside.
Since it stays light so late, many people celebrate Memorial Day by drinking all day. Memorial Day is the second-highest day for beer sales after the Fourth of July. Even with social distancing and gatherings of over 10 people discouraged, there will probably be a lot of alcohol consumption this Monday.
Perhaps even more this year, people will want to “unwind” and drink heavily. For those who are grieving a service member, someone you lost to COVID-19, or anyone else in your life, take care of yourself this Monday. Grief is painful and consuming. It can make you want an escape. A study in the journal Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention and Policy found that people in bereavement for two years were more than twice as likely to have at-risk drinking habits. With the pandemic, personal grief, and the pull of a heavy drinking holiday, it might be a difficult day for your recovery.
If you think you might struggle this Memorial Day, reach out to a trusted person in your life beforehand and let them know to answer your calls that day. Try to make sure you have plenty of your favorite non-alcoholic drink, so that you don’t feel left out if people around you are drinking. If you think it will help, write down a list of reasons you’re sober and keep it with you on Monday. Remember that drinking or using will not help you unwind—they will make things much harder. If you are struggling with a substance use or co-occurring mental health disorder during the pandemic, there is help. Amatus Recovery Centers is open throughout the crisis, with hospital-grade sanitization and telehealth options so that you can feel safe in treatment. At our facilities across the country, we will help you work through traumas and root causes of your addiction so that you can thrive in long-term recovery. Call an admissions specialist at 410-593-0005.