Roadside Memorials

I realise that I am taking on something of a contentious issue here, but I really don’t like roadside memorials. And before I become flooded with comments telling me how heartless I am, please read on while I explain why.

Like many customs, we have imported the custom of marking the spot of a fatal car accident, murder, or other tragic event, from the United States. In turn, it was imported there from Mexico, and to Mexico by 17th century Spanish colonists, who referred to them as “descanos”, or “resting places”. There are those who disagree with them primarily because many feature the symbol of a Christian cross; others find them a dangerous distraction, with drivers feeling compelled to look at them, thus taking their eyes off the road.

I am an atheist. I have been ever since I was 9-years-old and my Sunday school teacher told me that my nanna’s death was “God’s will” (mind you, I should have had my suspicions when she told me that dinosaurs didn’t exist!) Nevertheless, my absence of religion is not the reason I feel such antipathy towards roadside memorials. I do think they are a distraction, but again, that is not the cause of my dislike. The reason I do not like roadside memorials is the fact that, in my opinion, they are decidedly unhealthy.

Just down the road from where I live, a wooden cross has been placed at the scene of a fatal car accident. It stands approximately two feet in height, bears the surname of the person who died and is adorned with fresh flowers. Come rain or come shine, every week or so, the old flowers are replaced with bright, fresh new ones. Now, while I can fully empathise with a family wishing to visit, and perhaps lay flowers, at the place where their loved one died in order to pay their respects, I find the practice of maintaining a memorial at that place so unhealthy. To me, it is freezing one of the most painful, or perhaps the most painful, moment in your life so that you can return to it over and over again.

Trust me, I have mourned enough people in my life, from my grandparents to my best friend, who died suddenly at the age of 27. She was like a sister to me, and there is not a day goes by that I don’t think of her. And yet, I wouldn’t dream of going to the intensive care unit where she died, or even to that particular hospital, to continually lay flowers. She is not there. She died there, yes, but her spirit, her sense of being, her soul, call it what you will, is not there.

Grief is a process, one that we all go through at some point in our lives. We all go through at our own pace, but to be healthy, we must come out at the other side. For me, moving through this process was one of the toughest things I have ever done, for I felt that I was somehow leaving my friend, the girl who I had grown up with from birth, the girl that I spent at least a portion of every day with, behind, in the past. There were days when I felt I couldn’t do it; but if I had allowed myself to live in the moment of her death, my life would have ended as if I had died with her.

It is for this reason, and this reason alone, that I do not like roadside memorials. They are not healthy.

Do not stand at my grave and weep.

I am not there; I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow.

I am the diamond glints on snow.

I am the sunlight on ripened grain.

I am the gentle autumn rain.

When you awaken in the morning’s hush

I am the swift uplifting rush

Of quiet birds in circled flight.

I am the soft star that shines at night.

Do not stand at my grave and cry;

I am not there; I did not die

Mary Elizabeth Frye, 1932

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2 thoughts on “Roadside Memorials

    • No, I don’t think you’re heartless. Death is never an easy subject to broach, and you’re right about cultural differences. I don’t like the open casket idea either. I had the opportunity to go and see my best friend after she’d died, and I chose not to. My memories of her are so vital, happy and full of life, and that’s how I always want to remember her.

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