Commemorating fatal accidents = bad idea

In my community and elsewhere, plaques, paid for by family or friends, are sometimes permanently set up in public places where individuals have died, typically in accidents. There’s something about these markers that is bothersome to me. I can totally see commemorating locations where many people have died, such as battle fields, prison camps, or the grounds of the twin towers in NYC, for examples. I can also see the significance, perhaps, of marking the spot where a famous or historical person died. “Here is the house where such-and-so died.”

It’s not that I don’t understand the impetus behind family and friends wanting to commemorate the loss itself. They want their person to be remembered, and I imagine they think they’re honoring the dead person. The trouble is, when I come upon a plaque at the site of a death, instead of thinking kind thoughts about the diseased (who I almost certainly did not know), I begin thinking about the possible gruesome circumstances by which the person died. I don’t think that’s what anyone intends, but I can’t imagine what else might be intended; i.e. a sign at the site of a fatal crash or accident doesn’t make me think about improved safety regulations or driving more cautiously, or anything along those lines. I’m not really sure what’s accomplished by permanently noting the place of an accidental death. Does dwelling on the exact location even help the family and friends of the person?

Also — why should only certain people’s death sites be noted? I mean far and away most people’s are not and I’d have to think money would be a factor in at least some cases. In my own neighborhood, a man died on the street of a heart attack some years back. It was never marked in any way. (I temporarily marked it with a flower that was gone in a week.) For some time after, I’d look at the spot and think about the man, who I did not know, and think also of how that location must feel to his family, who lived in the immediate area.

I feel similarly about “Ghost Bike” installations. These are bicycles which have been painted white and are permanently installed at the site of a bicyclist’s death. I didn’t know quite what to make of these when I first became aware of them, but now, several years later, I think they simply make me uneasy. Again, because all they do is elicit unpleasant thoughts of the nature of the death. They don’t make me rally for improved bike safety or write my congressman to press for legislation that’ll make drivers and bicyclists coexist more peaceably. They’re creepy – maybe that’s the point? And I say this as a bicyclist myself. I’ve recently seen one set up in front of a residence, that is, not near traffic or roads, and I really don’t know what to think about that one.

In my community, to memorialize a death of any sort, people can “purchase” a tree, or even a park bench that’s installed in a public spot with a small plaque listing the diseased’s name and birth/death dates. Sometimes, it’ll also include a more personal touch like, “beloved father and husband” or “she loved gardening and walking.” A sweet one I saw included what must’ve been a common refrain by the diseased, something along the lines of, “Oh, how glorious!” I like these memorials – they contribute something to the community and make me stop and think, and not only about how someone died.

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7 thoughts on “Commemorating fatal accidents = bad idea

  1. battlewagon13

    I completely agree with you on this. I don’t understand leaving something at the scene of an accident. If you do believe in heaven, then the people certainly aren’t still there. If you don’t believe in heaven, then you are just in the grave and not at the scene anymore either. I also feel a little odd about the stickers that people put in memoriam in their back windshields.

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      I can see temporary displays (sort of) but permanent? Your point is sound; religious or not, a person’s connection to the site of death is nebulous. I don’t know about these stickers.

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  2. Kate Crimmins

    Around here you will see faded yellow ribbons around trees and faded plastic flowers to denote traffic accidents. I think it’s an eyesore myself. There are wonderful ways to commemorate that are beautiful and functional like the bench or a tree in a park. Even a scholarship fund would be a nice remembrance.

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  3. Angie Mc

    I’m old school when it comes to funerals and memorials and I’ve also volunteered for Hospice so I’ve thought (perhaps too often) about death and how we express grief as a community. I’m with you, Colette. Going old school still makes a lot of sense to me. This includes church gatherings, viewings, funeral services, burials, etc. While I know all the arguments against traditional ways (many legit, such as cost) I do think it gave those who grieve a process and a place to “put” the grief. In this way, we may have a need met and not need to place memorials subjectively and randomly throughout a community. But in the end, I just hope that all who are grieving receive the comfort and support they need during their time of need.

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      Angie, I think it’s interesting that you’ve volunteered with hospice – I admire people who do that. I think it takes a special sort. I understand the ruminating about death. The longer you live and the more deaths you experience, the more it sits on your mind

      I also have come to appreciate the rituals of mourning (and resent how quickly people are expected to “get on with it” after the formal events have ended). I think, in the case here, with sites of accidental deaths, the people must be marking the location *in addition to” whatever else they do to memorialize their dead. I’m just not certain what the former accomplishes.

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      1. Angie Mc

        You make important points, Colette. Two things popped to mind. Our culture is in such a rush in general, that could be why in part we’re rushing grief. We’re also have a “more is better” mentality, so I’m sure those who set up the monuments see themselves as doing more good. Very interesting.

        Oh, as for volunteering for Hospice, it was a privilege that I sort of just fell into. I never thought I would do it either! But what a great opportunity if you have the time…you surely have the compassion and down-to-earth truth that is so appreciated.

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