Roadside memorial


Another roadside memorial.  This is at an intersection on Gallatin Road, in Madison, TN (part of Nashville).  They are everywhere.  This one’s front cannot be viewed from this angle, which makes it all the more mysterious.  The front faces Gallatin, and that is a very busy road.  There is no way someone would be able to read it from there, zipping along on the road.  There isn’t a stop sign there.  This is in a between place.


There is a small metal tag attached to the top – it looks like one for a motorcycle.  The front looks like it is painted red. I kind of wish I’d gotten out of the car to look at it up close.

These memorials raise more questions than answers for me.

Who is this for?  Did s/he die here?  Is it to warn others that this is a dangerous intersection?

Did the person who placed it get permission to put this here?  Is this public property? Does this mean anybody can post whatever they want here?

How long will it stay? Forever?

When did this trend start, to memorialize the dead where they died?

When will it stop?  Why do I want it to stop?

Will it spill out and go everywhere – one at the desk of the person who died at work?  One on the sidewalk for the person who had a heart attack while walking her dog?

Why is it OK to celebrate grief in random places?

Why has a private feeling become public, yet anonymous?

Why am I so uncomfortable with this?  Why do I think it is low-class, gauche, tacky?

Why are they always Christian crosses – do Buddhists and Jews and Muslims and Hindus not die in traffic accidents too?  Do their families not care?  Or do they just know how to contain their grief in better ways?

Why is a graveyard better?  Why is hiding away grief better?

Are these to be seen as “memento mori” signs – reminders that you will die, that life is fleeting?


Thoughts on public displays of grief.

There are several different ways that people publicly grieve. Here are few I’ve noticed that seem especially modern. Many seem counterproductive to the healing process. Many seem to exacerbate and prolong grieving.

Commemorating relative’s deaths on Facebook. Every year we hear when their relatives were born or died. Sometimes the birthday post will say “Happy Birthday Mom! You would have been 87 years old today!” Is it suitable to wish happy birthday to someone who has died? Mom has been dead for 20 years. Many of the people who are their friends never even met their Mom.

The side of the road memorials. These often have crosses with the person’s name on it and some fake flowers. Is that where the person died? Was there a car crash? Is this meant to warn others that this is a dangerous area and to drive safely? Is it legal to put private roadside memorials on public property? Could the memorial itself become a safety hazard by distracting someone? How long is too long to leave one of these up? When did this start? These have not always been.

The stickers on the car – “In loving memory of (insert name here)”. These are very large, some of which cover the entire back window of the car. Sometimes there is a profile of praying hands or of Jesus. Often there are birth and death dates. There is a possibility that the sticker itself could be a hazard to the driver, making it hard to see when they are changing lanes. The people on the road most likely did not know that person. How is this message relevant or helpful to them?

Tattoos for the dead. Either with birthdates and death dates, or an image of the person, or both.

Many of these different public memorials are designed to be permanent. Sure, we want to remember the dead. To not remember them and what they meant to you is to make it as if they didn’t exist. But is it helpful to grieve forever? It is meaningful to show your grief to complete strangers? They don’t know your loved one. Is it a way of saying that your grief is worse, because you are showing it off? We all have loved ones who have died. It seems that to have a public display of grief indicates that you feel that others do not grieve.

Grief is a long and difficult process, and Western society does not have a very healthy relationship with it. This is the same society that doesn’t even acknowledge death as a natural part of life. The dying process is seen as an aberration or something to be treated. No wonder our grieving has no set pattern for beginning, middle, and end. No wonder it gets so messy.

I’m not questioning the need to grieve. I’m questioning the need to grieve publicly and permanently. Is that healthy? Is it productive? Is it fair to everyone else?