The Mark of A Roadside Memorial

One year ago, yesterday, a car plunged off a main road near our house and flipped into some trees along a steep embankment. It was the middle of the night. The passenger died and the injured driver crawled to a place of safety. In the morning a nearby homeowner discovered the accident. The road to our home filled with rescue personnel.

Coming home with my children, I waited in a line of vehicles while they pulled the car out of the trees, and we drove within feet of the horribly damaged car. Even though I did not know the details at the time of the crash, I solemnly said, “I don’t know how anyone could have survived that one.”

This crash thrust reality of car accidents to the front of my children’s minds in that moment. Sure, I could have said something a little more tactful or obscure, but the shock and situation was already severe and I wanted to be honest with them. It gave them a chance to talk about their feelings and their fears.

Within hours road markings replaced the emergency equipment and crash investigators, and all of us cringed a little every time we drove past the spot and saw stark lines directed off the roadway to simulate the path of the car.

My husband said, “Come winter, they will rub off and disappear.”

I hoped, as he said, that the snow and grit on the road would diminish their appearance. I wanted to forget.

Then, two crosses appeared to mark the spot as a memorial to the man who had died. The cross made by his friends and family identified him by name and the date of the accident: 7/31/07, R.I.P.

“Did they bury that man who died there in that spot,” my daughter said.

The snow came and covered the place all winter. Spring street cleaning showed only faded remains of the crash investigation lines. And the grass grew tall over the crosses and hid the reminder from our daily drive. Was this what I wanted? Was this the way for us to heal from a stranger’s tragedy?

Two days ago, on an early morning drive to the Y with my husband, we saw a man with a scythe cutting the grass around the cross. His car was parked alongside the curb. He obviously wasn’t a homeowner clearing the grass in the right of way.

Here was a man, maybe the father of the one who had died, grieving and remembering and uncovering the memorial so that others might remember to. My heart went out to him. But mingled with my sympathy was another feeling, one that I detested in myself, but one that still remained. Dread.

I have written about the importance of memorials and finding meaning in them. While impromptu personal memorials at a place of death, like this roadside one, ease the grief of relatives and friends, my experience revealed that for those without a connection to the person they honor, such memorials may cause more fear and doubt than healing and hope.

1 Comment

  1. Michelle at Scribbit
    Aug 2, 2008

    When I was in high school working at a construction company I came to work on a Monday and found there had been an accident off the road and it was only discovered then. Now every time I drive by that spot I remember the man that died and how no one knew about it for three days.

    But on a lighter note, we rip off the roof tomorrow! Construction starts Monday and I’m taking pictures to put together a time-lapse video of the work.

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