Grief and Memory in the Context of Hope: Memorial Day Weekend 2022

TO: Gonzaga Community
FROM: Thayne M. McCulloh, D.Phil., President
SUBJ: Grief and Memory in the Context of Hope: Memorial Day Weekend 2022
DATE: May 27, 2022

For well over 150 years, the United States has by custom and federal decree observed the last Monday in May as a national day of remembrance: a day to honor and mourn those who have died while serving in the armed forces of our country. With its roots in the horrific loss of life during the American Civil War, Memorial Day acknowledges the sacrifices of men and women throughout our nation’s history and even unto the present time. The Gonzaga University community has, over its history, mourned the loss of both students and alumni who lost their lives in conflicts during both World Wars and in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, among other wars and military operations.

Our Jesuit tradition calls us to be people of hope, seeking and finding God in all things. It presumes that a loving God is active and working in our lives, our relationships, and in all of Creation.

At the same time, such a concept has the potential to ring hollow, especially in the face of suffering and death. One might wonder, how is one to “find God” in the context of war and the destruction it creates? Struggling through grief can elicit a sense of hopeless despair and numbness as to where God may be found amid such heartbreak. Those who lose spouses, parents, children mourn the loss of life, and are left to wonder what might have been.

The search for God, however, does not ask us to deny our grief or the range of emotions elicited by the loss of someone precious to us. Even as our response to loss may change over time, mourning and remembering can themselves be considered both spiritual and essentially human, deeply embedded in the rituals of our religious traditions. This Memorial Day, we remember those who lost their lives in the service of our country, and we join with all those who mourn their loss. We remember that inherent in military service is a kind of sacrifice that is intended to support the interests of the entire nation, and to preserve our freedoms. With solemn gratitude we pray for those who have served and died, who now rest in God’s peace.


As we approach this Memorial Day Weekend, we cannot help but be affected by this past Tuesday’s horrific mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. There are no words adequate to describe the profound impact this murder of nineteen fourth graders and their two teachers is having on countless family members, fellow students, staff, first responders, and community members – but also a nation whose founding principles have been ”life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Our hearts and our prayers are with all those who are grieving and trying to figure out how to function in the face of the unimaginable. Each of us are left wondering what we might do to help, or to avert such events in the future.

The families of Uvalde are in need of our care and support, and each of us are invited to consider ways we might help them. In the days and weeks to come, there will be many calls for action as our nation and communities wrestle with the fundamental question of how to avert and prevent such destructive violence from happening in our schools and businesses. As individuals and citizens, we are challenged with determining how our experience might translate into real and meaningful change – particularly for our children and young people, who are also our future. During these days of grief and remembrance, let us remember to reach out to those who may be struggling, who may need our support or consolation. As the very embodiment of hope, let us always continue to count ourselves among those who – despite the brokenness of our world – seek nonetheless to build a better one.