Yesterday was the third anniversary of my brother's death. Just like clockwork, about a week ago I started getting postcards and letters from complete strangers assuring me that they know exactly how I feel. Um, no, you don't. Most of the people writing to me have never lost a family member in the first place, fewer still have lost one to warfare, and none at all are me. Don't presume to tell someone you know how their grief feels, especially when it's new. (And I started getting these letters in the first week after my brother's death, without any explanation of how they got my address in the first place. I'm not in the book.)
I've always had a knee-jerk cringe reaction to people who spin out elaborate mourning rituals for the deaths of celebrities (or worse, the relatives of celebrities). You don't know these people. You aren't a part of their family. You show more respect by keeping your distance, especially when the person you're pretending to mourn wasn't a public figure to begin with.
Granted, I realize that the people writing me are acting out of a sincere desire to be patriotic. If that's the case, lobby for the Veterans' Administration to get better funding. Pay attention to international events so you actually know what's going on in the world. Sit with a veteran for awhile. Please don't send me letters and postcards (most of them acting as if it happened yesterday, too, which makes it even more surreal) when you don't know me, my brother, or, more often than not, any soldiers either alive or dead. That's not grief, that's macabre performance art.