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“I’ve actually started to take a different route so I don’t have to go by it,” he said. “It’s not worth it at this point.”
October 13, 2012 3:57 PM   Subscribe

For the last several months in Mississauga, Ontario, someone has been repeatedly vandalising a roadside memorial at the Glen Erin Drive overpass. The memorial is maintained by the father of Thomas Jasinski, who died in a car crash at that location in 2009. After an extended investigation, the vandal in question has been found, and in today's Toronto Star he has stepped forward to give his side of the story.

The vandal is a man named Dave Worgan, who found the memorial to be a painful reminder of the death of Jason McMullen, who was killed in a crash in Hamilton in 2000.

Quote from the Star article:

Ten years earlier, when McMullen was just 12, he moved into the basement of the Mississauga home Worgan shared with three friends. The boy’s mother had left him, leaving the three men in their mid-30s with the kid.

“We took him under our wing and decided we’d help him along,” said Worgan.

After McMullen’s death, Worgan and his friends went to the crash scene to build a memorial of their own.

They were approached by a man who lived in a house beside the crash site, who recalls cleaning up bits of skull from his front lawn after the accident.

The man, who asked not to be named, told them roadside memorials were unnecessary reminders of grief that have no place in front of someone’s home.

Worgan carried that sentiment away with him, but insists he’s never tampered with any memorial aside from Thomas Jasinski’s. It’s the proximity to his Mississauga home he can’t stomach.

“They really have claimed this as their own property,” he says. “I think it’s insensitive and ignorant towards other people’s feelings.”


Roadside memorials (previously discussed on the Blue) have been a common fixture in many North American cities for years. There have been articles and posts on blogs debating the value and safety of these memorials, and incidents such as in Oregon in 2011 where a mother was ordered in to take down the memorial to a son who died in a skateboarding accident. Worgan's confession, if nothing else, adds another dimension to the debate: “People don’t realize that they’re hurting other people and affecting other lives … What gives them the right to do it?”
posted by spoobnooble II: electric bugaboo (88 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
I guess there really are two sides to every story. I didn't think that someone doing what this guy was doing could have any kind of reasonable motive, but I'm wrong about things sometimes.
posted by MattMangels at 4:01 PM on October 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


From the third link:

This is what happens when two sad stories crash into each other.

Kind of says it all.
posted by philip-random at 4:07 PM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


The US roadway system is awash in blood. If a semi-permanent memorial was erected for every one of the 40,000 car crash deaths that occur in the US each year, our highways and roads would turn into long funeral parlors. I appreciate the relatives' sentiment, but perhaps durable structures on public roadways aren't the most appropriate course of action.
posted by Nomyte at 4:09 PM on October 13, 2012 [38 favorites]


Hard to see how a memorial to a completely different event in the same location should be judged as being somehow harmful to others, even if they lost someone in the same place at a very different time. Ultimately, I think these memorials serve equal time as ways to remember those who have been lost and as warnings to those who might be careless in the same possibly dangerous place.

Ultimately, I don't think it's fair to desecrate one memorial simply because it causes unrelated personal pain. And yeah, two sad stories crashing into each other... seems to sum it all up.
posted by hippybear at 4:10 PM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


our highways and roads would turn into long funeral parlors

This is a bad thing?
posted by five fresh fish at 4:14 PM on October 13, 2012 [10 favorites]


I'm not sure I want to see memento mori on the highways, for many of the same reasons I'm not a fan of pro-life protesters with signs.
posted by Nomyte at 4:14 PM on October 13, 2012


I'm not sure I want to see memento mori on the highways

You don't live in a place where these are common? Is this mostly a west-of-the-Mississippi thing? I see them all over in various states where I drive, usually on non-interstate highways, but they can pop up anywhere. I'm surprised they don't exist in the DC area.
posted by hippybear at 4:16 PM on October 13, 2012


I dislike memorials on the street. In my hometown, there was an idiot who killed herself going 90 miles an hour around a curve that's sharp at 40. She ran into a tree in someone's yard and died instantly, and the family of course came and built a giant shrine on the public right-of-way surrounding the road. The property owner has no recourse, as the shrine is on "public property."
posted by sonic meat machine at 4:17 PM on October 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


It seems like in the past twenty years western society has grown uncertain of how to cope with public expressions of grief (remember people clapping at Diana's hearse?). We have embraced more of the memento mori over the previous WASP stiff upper lip/never-to-be-mentioned again coping strategy; it is an interesting evolution in social mores to observe. I am not sure either expression is healthy for individuals or bystanders. That death is part of the journey of life, but only a part, is a difficult ideal to maintain.
posted by saucysault at 4:17 PM on October 13, 2012 [7 favorites]


The US roadway system is awash in blood. If a semi-permanent memorial was erected for every one of the 40,000 car crash deaths that occur in the US each year, our highways and roads would turn into long funeral parlors.

I've noticed this year that long-lasting roadside memorials seem to be increasingly common in the parts of the country where I drive a lot, and I have wondered, if they're all maintained, how long it would take for most roads to become one long corridor of plastic flowers and white crosses.

It's an increasingly horrifying reminder of the actual costs of our dominant mode of transportation, for sure. I'm not sure I have it in me to say that's a bad thing, though.
posted by brennen at 4:18 PM on October 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think short to medium term markers are ok things.. the problem is when people want to maintain them longer term. That seems wholly inappropriate.

The fellow dismantling the memorial probably inadvertently increased the amount of time it actually occupied the space, and if we are going to take exception to everything that reminds us of grief we might as well wrap our heads in sack cloth and never leave the house. Goodness sakes what does he do when he drives by a graveyard?


(yeah highways/interstates are abattoirs of both humans and other animals)
posted by edgeways at 4:20 PM on October 13, 2012


He was going to build a memorial for his friend and allowed someone to talk him out of it. Rather than having any kind of dialog with the Jasinski family about why their memorial is painful to him, he has taken it upon himself to dismantle their memorial under cover of darkness and complain about their insensitivity? He needs to seek help and process his grief.
posted by The Hamms Bear at 4:21 PM on October 13, 2012 [21 favorites]


What a sad thing for both men.
I am not fond of road side memorials myself but don't really mind a simple marker.
However, I was enormously touched by one I found this summer on Usal Road (dirt) way way way off the beaten track, where a trail forked down to the beach campground. It was a large stone marker, as I recall, with a bronze plaque memorializing a teenage girl who had been thrown from a pickup and killed. It asked people, in her memory, to drink safely, party safely and to take care of themselves.
I can get behind that.
posted by SLC Mom at 4:22 PM on October 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


You don't live in a place where these are common?

I do, but I don't want to see them. I imagine that most car crash victims are buried or otherwise laid to rest somewhere, where their friends and relatives can do whatever they like without disturbing others.
posted by Nomyte at 4:23 PM on October 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think short to medium term markers are ok things.. the problem is when people want to maintain them longer term. That seems wholly inappropriate.

In Montana (a place where I drive non-interstate highways regularly), they aren't created by or maintained by the families. They are placed by the American Legion, and while often decorated by family members, they aren't originated by them.
posted by hippybear at 4:25 PM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


A block from my home a teenager was stabbed at a party and died on the sidewalk in front of a neighbouring house. This was three years ago, and the nearest light pole is still regularly pasted with photos and messages, a hanging basket of artificial flowers, and an group of candles is lit on his birthday and anniversary of his death. Last year a memorial bench and some trees were added to the nearby park, but for some members of his family and his friends, it seems that the spot on the sidewalk will be a long term point of remembrance.

I often wonder what the old woman who lives there thinks of such a sad, enduring display outside her front door.
posted by Paid In Full at 4:27 PM on October 13, 2012


Here is a related AskMe from a few weeks ago. It is a little fighty in places, but it goes to show some of the competing values around public memorials.
posted by SLC Mom at 4:27 PM on October 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


(And since I drive the same route often, and frequently at very late/early hours, I see the cross markers as warnings to be more diligent with my driving along those stretches. As a driver, they are actually doing me a favor, warning me of how others have made errors in that location and helping me be more alert to my own habits to avoid the same fate. Perhaps I'm doing it wrong, but that seems to be a very good way to honor the horrible, sudden death which can happen along a stretch of highway.)
posted by hippybear at 4:27 PM on October 13, 2012 [11 favorites]


Hard to see how a memorial to a completely different event in the same location should be judged as being somehow harmful to others, even if they lost someone in the same place at a very different time.

From my reading, this isn't the same location as the death that caused Worgan his grief. It just happened to be on his route home.
posted by thecjm at 4:30 PM on October 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


In Montana (a place where I drive non-interstate highways regularly), they aren't created by or maintained by the families. They are placed by the American Legion...


Now that I do take exception to. I would certainly not like a group of strangers putting up a religious symbol in my name. Even if my family would put up the same symbol, I don't like the assumption. Or the presumption.
posted by SLC Mom at 4:30 PM on October 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Those crosses,I mean.
posted by SLC Mom at 4:32 PM on October 13, 2012


it goes to show some of the competing values around public memorials

I think the greater lessons to be learned from that thread revolve around unconscious classism and racism.
posted by elizardbits at 4:33 PM on October 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Now that I do take exception to.

Yeah, I understand that. Doesn't mean that I don't still see it as a warning to me, as a driver, that this is a place where others have met a bad end and that I should be more attentive. But yeah, I'd not be happy to have a cross erected in my memorial if I were to meet a similar end.
posted by hippybear at 4:34 PM on October 13, 2012


I see the cross markers as warnings to be more diligent with my driving along those stretches.

You know them by the trail of dead?
posted by Nomyte at 4:37 PM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I know the trail by the markers of the dead. There is no "them".
posted by hippybear at 4:42 PM on October 13, 2012


As a driver, they are actually doing me a favor, warning me of how others have made errors in that location and helping me be more alert to my own habits to avoid the same fate.

I think about that as well, but I also worry that large colorful displays at a dangerous part of the road could be pretty hazardous if they distract drivers.
posted by elizardbits at 4:42 PM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


To be honest, it would be really interesting to take a stretch of highway and populate it with crosses and plastic flowers at the precise site of every fatal accident that has occurred there in the last—say—20 or 30 years. I think a reminder of the scale of the loss of life could be rather helpful, considering how careless/distracted/unconcerned many people seem to drive.

I grew up with one parent who was a pathologist, and so a frequent topic for conversation during dinner was the autopsies that came through the morgue that day. I got to hear about all forms of death in fine detail, from mundane to bizarre, painless to gruesome. Her morgue got assigned about 1/4 of all the autopsies occurring in my medium-sized hometown. Violent deaths came in frequently but not daily. Complex tv-show-style mystery deaths were even rarer. But every single day, my mom came home with a story of a motor vehicle accident where someone was crushed, skewered, smeared, dismembered, burnt, twisted, chopped, or shattered in some fresh new way.

Hearing about this every day as I grew up, I couldn't help but see highways as haunted with terror, agony, and loss—all of which was only a split-second away from becoming my fate. I don't know if it's fair that one person gets a shiny shrine and another person remains invisible, but having a monument marking death in a place where it might happen again at any moment seems like a good—if not necessarily pleasant—thing.
posted by LMGM at 4:44 PM on October 13, 2012 [12 favorites]


I'm curious to know what you guys think about the new trend of memorializing people with bumper stickers.
posted by Brocktoon at 4:45 PM on October 13, 2012


I suppose I can see the value in these roadside things as warning symbols, as hippybear said. But aside from that, I'm not a fan of the public display of permanent grieving. Maybe it's just me, but I prefer to remember the loved ones I've lost with memories of their lives and the experiences I was fortunate enough to share with them.

But truth be told, I can't even remember, for instance, the exact date that my mother died. I probably forget stuff like that not with conscious intent, but out of some desire not to dwell on the end of someone's life. I love being reminded of her in joyous ways, and I get those reminders often. I just don't see a purpose in revisiting the pain of that loss on a regular basis.
posted by zoog at 4:46 PM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I understand the desire to keep a connection to a lost loved one, but that's what cemeteries and personal spaces in your own home are for. There's no reason to invade public spaces or private property with disintegrating teddy bears and faded plastic flowers, which would be considered litter in any other context.
posted by sageleaf at 4:47 PM on October 13, 2012 [10 favorites]


I'm curious to know what you guys think about the new trend of memorializing people with bumper stickers.

Idk, kind of tacky I guess? But different people mourn in different ways.

Wait - is this specifically for people who died in car crashes?
posted by elizardbits at 4:49 PM on October 13, 2012


They are placed by the American Legion...


Now that I do take exception to. I would certainly not like a group of strangers putting up a religious symbol in my name.


I don't like these roadside shrines or memorials, and I certainly wouldn't want something as tacky as they usually are put up in my name. Plant a tree, people!
posted by BlueHorse at 4:50 PM on October 13, 2012


I'm curious to know what you guys think about the new trend of memorializing people with bumper stickers.

I don't know about bumper stickers, but I'm repeatedly flummoxed and a bit outraged when I see vehicles with "In Memoriam Of..." decals on the back window and such. Like... buying a car or truck is somehow a memorial of the person you've lost? I simply don't relate to that mindset at all. It feels at best selfish or opportunistic (assuming the vehicle was purchased with payout money resulting from that person's death). Perhaps I'm being uncharitable, but wow. A memorial should be something.... else... not a vehicle you drive around town.
posted by hippybear at 4:50 PM on October 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


They do something like this in Thailand, but the purpose is a bit different. I forget the exact belief that goes with it but it's something along the lines of pacifying the ghost of someone who dies a sudden violent death. So, not for the living so much as for the dead themselves.


I'm not bothered by memorials. I think American society in general is very uncomfortable with the fact of death, and reminders of it would therefore be uncomfortable. But the older I get, (and particularly with the job I hold) I get almost daily reminders that we aren't immortal. Not a bad reminder to have, really.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:59 PM on October 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


The US roadway system is awash in blood. If a semi-permanent memorial was erected for every one of the 40,000 car crash deaths that occur in the US each year, our highways and roads would turn into long funeral parlors.

Here lies John Doe
And a thousand others
In death we're all
Sisters and brothers
Burma Shave
posted by kenko at 5:00 PM on October 13, 2012 [37 favorites]


I can't even remember, for instance, the exact date that my mother died.

Yeah, I don't know the exact date my father died. It was in May. I finished my last-ever assignment for law school on Sunday morning and then held his wake on Sunday afternoon. But the exact date escapes me. Other members of my family remember it precisely, and they hate that date. I feel glad I don't have that close a relationship (so to speak) with the date.

Similarly? I hope that when I pass, my friends and family choose to remember me in a way not related to how I died. Remember my life. The chocolate-chip cookies I baked, the jokes I cracked, my passion for law or music or photography. Nevermind the place or date where I happened to die. I'm not a fan of cemeteries and I think roadside memorials are a step worse.

Having said that...

To be honest, it would be really interesting to take a stretch of highway and populate it with crosses and plastic flowers at the precise site of every fatal accident that has occurred there in the last—say—20 or 30 years.

As a temporary art installation, that could be really interesting and compelling.
posted by cribcage at 5:03 PM on October 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


hippybear: "Yeah, I understand that. Doesn't mean that I don't still see it as a warning to me, as a driver, that this is a place where others have met a bad end and that I should be more attentive. But yeah, I'd not be happy to have a cross erected in my memorial if I were to meet a similar end."

I didn't mind so much the signs put up by the state on a US highway that said (from memory):
CROOKED AND STEEP
NEXT 23 MILES
47 PEOPLE DIED
IN LAST 6 YEARS
DON'T YOU BE NEXT
I do mind religious symbols and litter lining the roadways, however. Especially when they're in the right of way and could well hide a deer or something else that I could then be unable to avoid. The state's warning is one time at either end of a long stretch, not every 500 yards.
posted by wierdo at 5:08 PM on October 13, 2012


Shrines & other large-scale memorials bother me: they are a man-made hazard and often an eyesore; if maintained, the maintenance itself poses a hazard.

In BC we have plenty of small crosses with plastic crap hung over them. A surprising number are not where one would expect a fatal accident. Regardless, they often remind me to behave better on the highway.

The memorials are always cross-shaped. Odd, that.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:08 PM on October 13, 2012


Where I used to live, the county coroner would mark the site of road fatalities with white spraypaint and a stencil, right on the asphalt, ostensibly for reference purposes should she have to return to the site during the course of the investigation. The fact that the stencil was a cross however pretty much turned them into subtle semi-permanent memorials.

I had mixed feelings about them. They were useful as safety reminders, but I would have wished for a more neutral symbol.
posted by radwolf76 at 5:11 PM on October 13, 2012


As a temporary art installation, that could be really interesting and compelling.

Kickstart that. It needs to be done!
posted by five fresh fish at 5:11 PM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's no reason to invade public spaces or private property with disintegrating teddy bears and faded plastic flowers, which would be considered litter in any other context.

Oh right. And there's no reason to embrace my wife, who, being made of meat, would just be offal in any other context. Or to make art which, being just paint and cloth, would be junk in any other context. Or to speak at all, since the sounds we make with our flapping lips and bleating throats would just be noise in any other context.

Being obstinately reductive doesn't make you insightful. It makes you insensitive.

Two months ago, my wife had a silent miscarriage. We were driving to the appointment with her obstetrician, expecting to come back with photos of our second child's first shape. We were already talking about how we'd be thinking about his or her little heartbeat in bed that night. Way, way too far ahead of ourselves. On the way to the doctor's office, there was an insane traffic jam. Cars were at a dead stop for long stretches of time. Coming to a major intersection in our suburb, we saw a policeman directing traffic by hand, carefully looking up the street before letting another few cars trickle through the intersection. Weird. But we were late and I just zipped around him and drove on to the appointment, where I was about to get this terrible news.

Driving back with heavy hearts, we were puzzled to see that the same traffic jam was still there. As we approached the intersection, we saw TV vans with their big broadcast antennas, and many, many more cops. My wife quickly googled and discovered that, only a few minutes before we had driven through the intersection on the way to our appointment, a 40 year old biker had been killed in a hit and run. They were gathering evidence the rest of the night.

At the time, the accident we drove past felt like a premonition. Like the cheap foreshadowing in a John O'Hara story. But this sat badly with me when I realized that we will have other kids. We're young(-ish) and healthy and motivated. This death of a man roughly my age is the end of all that for his family. I was ashamed to realize that my first instinct was to whittle that person's tragedy into a shape that fit my own painful narrative. His death was the destruction of a world already populated with hopes, fears and imaginings. Next to it, our loss is a small thing.

A few days later, I saw that people had created a shrine at the intersection where this man had been killed. Teddy bears, flowers, pictures and crepe. Surprisingly earnest given the waspy affluence of the town in which we (uncomfortably) live. Last I looked, it was still there. It probably gives the people who made it some comfort, knowing that the man they've lost is not yet forgotten. For me, it's a reminder of the fragility of life in general and the meager scale of my own self-involvement.
posted by R. Schlock at 5:13 PM on October 13, 2012 [35 favorites]


“I’m not proud of having to do this,” said Worgan

Having to do this? Sorry, but fuck this guy.

I've lost people. I don't attack the neighbourhood cemetery because it reminds me of loss.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 5:18 PM on October 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


R. Schlock: what a horrible and heartfelt personal story. I'm so sorry to hear about this. Thanks for your insights into this kind of thing. And my best wishes to you and your wife during your time of loss, and best hopes for the future for both of you.
posted by hippybear at 5:21 PM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thanks hippybear. We're doing better. I didn't mean to derail the conversation, but it just seemed worth pointing out that these sorts of memorials mean different things to different people and that the "well, at the end of the day it's all just junk" explanation says a lot more about the explainer than it does about the thing explained.
posted by R. Schlock at 5:30 PM on October 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


I have this childhood memory
of my old man screaming from the driver's seat
to turn away from an unfolding horror,
but he could not undo what I had seen.
We never spoke of it again.
Two more hapless citizens
of the new post-traumatic stress worldwide disorder.
posted by regicide is good for you at 5:31 PM on October 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Last Christmas day a friend of mine (we're not BFF, but a friend all the same) was driving her family to one of the grandparent's house to open gifts. We had a freak windstorm that morning, and the top of a fir tree broke off and hit her car, killing her youngest daughter and injuring others in her family. (So maddeningly senseless; I considered abandoning my atheism just to give whatever god might arrange something like that the finger.)

There is now a shrine on the roadside where this girl was killed (put up by neighbors and friends of the family), and it does make me think of her--and her mom--every time I pass it. The question that's been burning inside me, and I am nowhere near a good enough friend or tactless enough to ask: what does my friend think? Is she touched passing it two or more times per day? Or does it serve to prolong painful memories? Is it just background noise? Does the memorial create obligations, and is she happy or resentful of those?

In our county (maybe our state?), I think families of drunk driving victims can pay to have the county put up a road sign which reads

DON'T DRINK AND DRIVE
IN MEMORY OF JOHN DOE

at the accident location. I certainly see these around. I don't mind these at all.
posted by maxwelton at 5:59 PM on October 13, 2012


I'm sorry, I am sympathetic for everyone's grief, but I don't get a good vibe about this guy, about his story, or about why he's willing to do this. It's not OK and he does need some help.

I find memorials uncontroversial - they're a folk expression. They're going to happen. If anything, on highways they remind to drive better and look out.
posted by Miko at 5:59 PM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Kid killed himself drag racing out behind our house in the middle of the night on a busy arterial, crashing into a large iron pole placed purposely to keep people who lose it on the dogleg from running into somebody's house.

By the two sets of skipping, six inch apart, deep parallel scars on the asphalt, he must have blown two tires 60 feet from the pole.

It made a tremendous clang that I slept through, but my partner went out front and saw a red sports car on a crossing street running, but with all its lights off and dripping from every surface, so chances are the dead kid would have won if he'd kept it on the road.

A memorial appeared, was cleared away by the city after a week, reappeared and was removed, came back again after a month with pictures and a bio on panels strapped with stainless steel bands to the pole at the 8 ft level, was taken down again and has never come back.

I thought I would remember his name as I wrote this, but I haven't.
posted by jamjam at 6:03 PM on October 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


I don't much mind them on rural roads or highways (although I sometimes worry about people getting hit while tending them), but there's one at a busy intersection in my town, to a pair of (motorcycle) bikers who were hit and killed by a car driver who "just didn't see them." It was a really egregious accident, and the driver who killed them was a super-dick about it; it was in the news for ages. The friends of the bikers put up this extremely eye-catching memorial at the site, including signs that said, "CAN YOU SEE ME NOW?" and "Watch for motorcycles" and an in memoriam sign, and there are also flowers and figures and T-shirts and, anyway, it's big and complex and eye-catching, and people ALL THE TIME slow down to stare at this kinda dangerous and not-great-visibility four-way intersection (two lanes + a left turn lane in three directions; one lane + left in the fourth; quick merges after the intersection, right arrows some ways but not others; a hill that makes oncoming traffic invisible in one direction, and a hospital ER entrance right over the hill so there's often emergency vehicles you can hear but sometimes not see until they're on top of you). I've heard there have been a few fender benders when someone slows way down to read the signs and the next car doesn't slow down enough in time (or doesn't notice). That's not cool. I understand the impulse to have the memorial to them where the accident happened, but it's been there a couple years now and I think it's pretty dangerous. A permanent memorial in a nearby park would seem more appropriate. Or maybe some "watch for motorcycles" signs in various places in the city that are particularly dangerous for motorcyclists.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:07 PM on October 13, 2012


There is a proper type of memorial for this sort of situation. It's called a gravestone.

People die all the time, everywhere. If everyone who deserved a memorial got one, the whole damn world would be covered with mouldering teddy bears, faded ribbons, and burned out votive candles.
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:12 PM on October 13, 2012 [16 favorites]


There's no reason to invade public spaces or private property with disintegrating teddy bears and faded plastic flowers, which would be considered litter in any other context.

This. As I mentioned before on the blue, some seven years ago my younger brother died behind the wheel on a highway. Although I have never seen a memorial at the point where he died, I am dismayed pretty much every time I visit his grave: in life, he used to meet his friends at Tim Horton's (a Canadian coffee/donut place) for coffee and cigarettes and conversation. To commemorate him, his friends visit his gravesite and leave behind empty paper coffee cups and crumpled cigarette packages. It looks horrific, in my view, but I suppose people must grieve as they see fit.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:13 PM on October 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


The untended memorials with dirty disintegrating plastic flowers sadden me the most. I understand not wanting to revisit the memorial. I do wish they would, leaving only the marker itself, which will itself disintegrate, but not for many more years. To my mind, it would be more respectful to the memory of the victim.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:15 PM on October 13, 2012


It's kind of painful to read this, in that Worgan's grief just comes through. His argument is analogous to saying that what, people shouldn't have public expressions for your X because it reminds me of my X. It's not so much that I'm trying to criticise him, but yeah, two sad stories.
posted by undue influence at 6:29 PM on October 13, 2012


The tasteful way to do it is to wait 70 years and then get the mayor to place reserved stone plaque, then the neighbours don't complain.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 6:34 PM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I sympathize with the property owner who feels obligated to keep the memorial or guilty if he removes it.
posted by surplus at 6:45 PM on October 13, 2012


I live in the DC area and we do have roadside memorials here, though I will say you usually don't see a lot of them.

Just outside of Fredericksburg there was a house on a country road where a tragic accident occurred. The family that lived there had a teenage daughter that was backing out of the driveway onto the road one day and got T-boned by a dump truck, she was killed instantly. The family put up a permanent stone marker at the side of the road across the street from the house, and put a lot of trinkets and flowers on it. It always struck me as a bit morbid because the first thing they would have seen everyday when they left home was that memorial. It was there for many years and was constantly maintained.

When the accident happened all that was across the street from the house was an empty field. A few years ago the county built a school there, and also widened and re-shaped the road. I checked Google street view and the memorial is gone now. I have no idea if the same family still lives in that house.
posted by smoothvirus at 7:05 PM on October 13, 2012


It would be fascinating if the government officially sanctioned a small marker wherever a fatal crash occurred. The reality of accidental death is not something we readily acknowledge in our culture and it would be a complete reversal to be constantly reminded of it.

I don't think such a policy would necessarily work as a warning of dangerous roads though. Rural highways are very dangerous per car-mile, but there wouldn't be a lot of markers because there are so many miles of them and there is little traffic. Major freeways are pretty safe per car-mile, but they carry so much traffic that they would be strewn with markers.

The city I live in puts up a big sign that says "Crash Reduction Zone" with a little cartoon picture of a car crash in particularly dangerous areas. People slow down and pay attention when driving through them. Obviously this wouldn't work if the sign were everywhere, but they are used pretty sparingly. Maybe families of the dead could petition for the installation of such a sign.
posted by miyabo at 7:15 PM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


My wife and I drove for about two hours on a secondary highway in Montana a few years ago. We counted fifty-four white crosses by the side of the road - memorials for car crash deaths. Mostly single, but several with four or more. Sure made me slow down and pay attention.
posted by Pablo MacWilliams at 8:00 PM on October 13, 2012


On a related tangent, there is a cemetery here next to Volunteer Park on Capitol Hill, the oldest cemetery in Seattle, filled with the names of many a local street and town. Bruce and Brandon Lee are also buried there and it should be no surprise that their adjoining graves are covered in coins, flowers and handwritten notes -- graves like those tombs of Greek heroes described in Pausanias's Description of Greece -- for reasons easy to understand.

But also there are a number of children's graves whose decorations have been replenished over the years. One is the grave of an infant who lived and died forty some forty odd years ago, who lived for two weeks at the most. It is always decorated with pinwheels and small balloons to this day. This is grief unfathomable to me.
posted by y2karl at 8:55 PM on October 13, 2012


It's really something so emblematic of culture. Gravestones with snapshots and informal quotations on them are nothing now; yet they're really exotic in certain areas. Death rituals are quite cultural, and adding to that the idea that nobody really knows how they're going to want to grieve certain losses until they happen means that we're always going to have a wide range of responses. I sort of resist the idea that we're all in agreement about what the "right" way is, or even that we have a single approved cultural response, when obviously many of the "approved" methods are in debate, or not sufficient for the individual feelings people bring to loss.
posted by Miko at 9:00 PM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


In Japan it's normal to create shrines for fetuses miscarried, aborted, or stillborn.
posted by Miko at 9:04 PM on October 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


It would be fascinating if the government officially sanctioned a small marker wherever a fatal crash occurred. The reality of accidental death is not something we readily acknowledge in our culture and it would be a complete reversal to be constantly reminded of it.

As I recall, these are standard practice in New Zealand, and I feel like I've seen them in the mountains around Boulder. I honestly don't know if they reduce drunk or reckless driving, but on the face of it I don't think they're a bad idea.
posted by brennen at 9:07 PM on October 13, 2012


On my usual running route, I take a turn at the intersection of a busy six-lane arterial and a less busy four-lane residential feeder. Two weeks ago, I noticed a fresh bouquet, wrapped in paper and plastic, carefully propped at the bottom of the crossing street lamp. Probably a $15, $20 bouquet from the grocery store. Over the days, it decayed -- I noticed the roses wilting before the rest, but their bones lasting the longest. At the time, I wondered why somebody would dump a bouquet on the street -- where, in my fantasies, the buyer was usually a man. Did he buy them for an unrequited love, but lost his nerve? Did he get home and find his girlfriend with another man, so he drove off and dumped the flowers in a fit of rage? One bouquet at an intersection could mean anything.

Last week, somebody left a fresh bouquet -- a lot smaller, but the same kind of cheap, artificially dyed chrysanthemums from the grocery store. It was carefully arranged in front of the old wilted bouquet. Right now, it still looks pretty good (or did before it rained this afternoon).

Two bouquets at an intersection? Now I'm thinking it's a memorial -- a subtle, sad, inexpensive memorial. I'm waiting for a third bouquet.

On one hand, I wish I knew what it was about. On the other, I'm glad it's not a big flashy neon cross or whatever -- at least selfishly, because I run a foot away from it most days of the week.
posted by liet at 9:48 PM on October 13, 2012


I don't know the story behind it, but I always thought this (crummy street view pic) was poignant. The wall has gone unfixed for at least 5 years.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 11:11 PM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


If the worst happens and my wife or one of my children dies before I do in a catastrophic accident, the last thing I could see myself doing is memorializing that loss at the point of impact. I would want to memorialize them someplace where we shared something important together or a spent happy times. I don't understand the urge to mark the spot where someone's body stopped working.

I'd love to hear from someone who has erected a roadside memorial and understand why they did it there instead of someplace else. I suspect (although I could totally wrong) that the erectors of the cairns of rotting teddy bears are most often not the people closest to the person who died. A part of me has often felt that it was an attempt by people with loose attachment to the deceased to connect themselves to the death (or, and I know it sounds cynical, but to the drama of the death) at the only place they had available to them since they did not have any meaningful place to do it.
posted by Cassford at 12:28 AM on October 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


People die all the time, everywhere. If everyone who deserved a memorial got one, the whole damn world would be covered with mouldering teddy bears, faded ribbons, and burned out votive candles.

Yeah but not everyone does or is likely to, so I think it's pretty much irrelevant in this - or any - context, really.

If a memorial helps reduce the staggering number of road deaths, or provides a soupcon of comfort for grieving friends and family, power to em, I say.

We live in a society together, after all, and I do not need to understand someone or share their beliefs to allow them an aid to get through the days. Compared to the tonnes of passive trash, the casually-tossed plastic. cigarette butts and take-out wrappers piled like small snow drifts, blanketing most roads and highways, I'm prepared to give some leeway to something that is rubbish to me, but placed with meaning and care by someone else, borne of a deep sorrow and sense of loss.

If I wanted everything to be the way I like it, I'd move to the moon I guess and live by myself. Or perhaps a graveyard. Such sterile, context-less places; no wonder people trying to take their mourning elsewhere.


(Interesting, to note, too, a certain sense of... embarrassment? Shame? Feelings of uncleanliness? coming from some mefites about the realities of public mourning. Your cultural bias is showing through, peeps. Lots of people across the world mourn very publicly - and very differently - to WASPS).

posted by smoke at 4:04 AM on October 14, 2012 [7 favorites]


I think these memorials are an unhealthy response to death. So are ostentatious graves. By all means, memorialize your dead loved one's in some respectful manner, by all means, grieve for your loved ones.
No one death, however terrible is any more remarkable than any one birth,
We all are born, we all die.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 4:06 AM on October 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


memorialize your dead loved one's in some respectful manner

Are such nebulous concepts as "respect" and "memorialising" cross-cultural in how they are present, though? I don't think so.
posted by smoke at 4:12 AM on October 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


“People don’t realize that they’re hurting other people and affecting other lives. … What gives them the right to do it?”

No one has the right to hurt or adversely affect another, and that includes those who would appoint themselves to sit in judgement.
posted by Mooski at 5:49 AM on October 14, 2012


five fresh fish writes "Shrines & other large-scale memorials bother me: they are a man-made hazard and often an eyesore; if maintained, the maintenance itself poses a hazard.

They are also an appropriation of public space for private purposes which pisses me off. And they make it harder for road crews to maintain right of ways.

In BC we have plenty of small crosses with plastic crap hung over them. A surprising number are not where one would expect a fatal accident. Regardless, they often remind me to behave better on the highway.

The memorials are always cross-shaped. Odd, that.
"

Actually it's just the cross shaped ones you know are a memorial. An anonymous pole/stone/marker next to the road way won't signal to you death unless you have time to read the marker. And there are also those ghost bike markers spread around BC though the one I know of is a plywood cut out of a bike. I've seen a few plaques attached to bridge/overpass abutments that you'd probably never notice and certainly never be able to read zipping by at highway speed. And that's what these memorials should be: unobtrusive reminders to the people who care. A small marker attached to pre-existing structure or even a flush marker in the road way. Rather than an appropriation of public space with a usually religious structure.

Also considering the durability of some of these crosses I wonder if they them selves are a hazard. After all a cross is all pointy. Roadside mailbox supports are a known hazard and the US postal service has guidelines to reduce the risks.
posted by Mitheral at 5:54 AM on October 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


I grew up in that part of Mississuaga, the giant parking lot where every parking spot comes with a house, and I worked as a personal lines (home and auto) insurance analyst on the other side of town for a year. My job first thing every morning was to compile a large claim report and send it out to the sales team leaders listing the insurance claims over $100K that had been settled on the previous day. So before 8am everyday I had read about violent deaths, dismemberments and maimings. The company I worked for had about 6% of the Ontario market and everyday there was at least one and usually several. (BTW it is true that is cheaper for an insurance company if you just die rather than survive with brain or spine injuries by a factor of about 10 - which is why insurance companies have been silent about road and vehicle safety of late - it doesn't economically benefit them anymore) . I had already stopped driving before I started working there, mostly for economic reasons, but that experience cemented the decision by adding to it my wish to never ever do that to another human being. I haven't driven a car in something like 18 years.

Every single year on North American roads there are in the region of 40,000 fatalities and 10X that number of serious injuries and people barely even blink at the carnage until it touches them. We think we are more civilized than the Aztec or Mayans with their ritualistic sacrifices for crop productivity but we have our Wicker Man rituals on our roads. There is not automobile right of way. It is all wrong of way.
posted by srboisvert at 7:29 AM on October 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


An Irishman's guide to mourning: You may cry when you find out, you may cry (silently) at the funeral, you may get misty and sing sad songs with happy melodies while drinking.
posted by Mick at 7:59 AM on October 14, 2012


Out here, it's a heavily Catholic area, and there are some serious shrines at some spots on the road. There are prayer niches built out of brick and stucco and concrete with wrought iron gates and usually with candles burning. There are the more subtle reminders, the smaller crosses. There is a tree close to my house where a motorcyclist died; there is a chair there with solar lights and changing decorations. There are the "in memory of" tattoos and stickers on cars.

I guess I'm so used to them that they don't bother me.
posted by azpenguin at 8:56 AM on October 14, 2012


One of the oddest memorials that I see is practically daily in my local newspaper. People put in paid advertisements that are letters to their deceased loved ones. They're on the order of:

Donald, you've been in the arms of Jesus for four years now but your family misses you still.
(Signed) Missy, Donald Jr., Crissy, & BoJo

I've never quite understood this--surely the still-grieving family doesn't believe that their dearly departed loved one reads The Daily News? Maybe it's just a way of marking the anniversary of the death but it seems to me to be more of a plea for people to acknowledge to the family that anniversary. And that's okay but I've always wondered if the grieving widow gives any thought to whether or not Crissy and BoJo cringe when that day comes around because they're not as interested in the public spectacle as their mother is.
posted by leftcoastbob at 10:24 AM on October 14, 2012


That seems like an uncharitable interpretation. I think the simpler explanation is that some people feel the need to acknowledge those days that some of us would prefer to forget. And placing an ad in the local newspaper, in a section where other people do this on a regular basis, is a relatively simple and non-intrusive act of acknowledgment. It doesn't strike me as a "public spectacle." How many people read your local newspaper, and how many of those read this section? Few, I'd guess. I'd assume the grieving family knows that.

It seems to me as if the newspaper is allowing them the opportunity to place one of these roadside memorials except with much less effort, no cleanup required, and less spectacle. I doubt the people who placed that ad expected anybody but Missy, Donald Jr., Crissy, and BoJo would ever read it. But it was an external act of acknowledgment. I don't empathize with that, but I can understand it.
posted by cribcage at 10:37 AM on October 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


For some people the moment when another person died, or the precise location becomes holy. I use the word holy loosely, because I don't know a better one that will get across what I mean. A better word would be taboo, in the original sense, but if I use that it would sound like I mean forbidden not awe-striking.

Every November Eleventh at the Eleventh hour I stop doing what I am doing and sit in silence and in awe for a few seconds remembering a carnage that swept through Europe before I was born, before my father was even born. I do this because my father did this. My father was a communist and an atheist, but at the cenotaph he would take off his hat and sing, "Abide with Me" and "Oh God Our Help In Ages Past." He did this for the men in his war who died when he lived, and the awe and tolerance with which he approached that moment every year passed on to me. I find it aesthetically pleasing to chant, "At the going down of the sun we will remember then..."

At Columbine there was a boy shot who left the building and then collapsed on a stretch of pavement between two buildings, a walkway of some sort where he bled to death and died. His mother would go down to this spot, the spot where he died and sit on the pavement where he had lain and just sit there to be with him. She couldn't figure out how to leave him yet, her instincts were saying, "Go and find your son..." so she would go to the place which was closest to him, not his grave but the place where he stopped being her son. Eventually to make her life and the life of the High School easier they arranged to lift up the pavement where he had bled to death and carry it to her home and lay it down again so that it would be in her own territory, her own private place so she could always easily go towards her son and be as near to him as she could.

One year they decided to stop holding the November Eleventh ceremony at the cenotaph. I was usually working so I couldn't always attend the ceremony but the year they decided not to gather at the cenotaph any more was a year when I could have gone. So now there are no pipers amid the falling leaves of November, and no old men with straight backs bare-headed in the rain or sleet or cold autumn sun, and no dignitaries, aldermen or retired lieutenant colonels, or the president of the bank placing thick green artificial wreaths with artificial flowers of the big stone slab with the bronze names on it. The cannons don't fire a salute. They have all gone away.

They've gone to the local arena. The veterans were cold. So now there is a piper under the dome, and the aldermen and the president of the bank place their wreaths against and edifice that looks a little bit like a cenotaph but is made of Styrofoam, not stone, and is stored in a cupboard all year beside the City Hall Christmas decorations. There's no cannon because it would be too loud indoors, but there is a good PA system so now the veterans can hear it all much better and they are all toasty warm and it is dry, and that is how it should be so that ninety year old men and women can be there.

I understand instantly that their need is paramount. But it's not the same ritual for me. I can't mourn the people -whom I never met- indoors in a hockey arena. Hockey arenas are alien territory. Parks with brown leaves shivering and flying in the wind are territory I understand. Of course, nobody died in the park, just the same as the rows and rows of gravestones in the cemetery do not mark the place where people died, only a place where the useless bodies were buried, but somehow for me, the park is a place that was touched with the holy, the same way that the cemetery where someone is buried might be holy to someone who loved them.

If someone were to raze the headstones, flood the grass and freeze it so they could play hockey in the cemetery, I think the families of the people who were buried there would feel the same way I feel about moving the ceremony of the cenotaph into the hockey arena, except that they would feel it much more strongly than I do.

I used to answer the phone for a cemetery in Los Angeles and there were always constant complaints that young people had taken boom boxes into the cemetery and they were dancing there, and getting drunk and fighting. The young people were part of a gang and that they were strutting about staring with cold speculative hostility at anyone else they didn't recognize. You could smell marijuana being smoked and there was evidence that behind the headstones that fucking was going on. And every time I got these phone calls I would have to explain, yes, there is a funeral going on, it is a burial, one or more young gang members have been killed in a drive-by shooting and these are their sisters and brothers and baby daddies and lovers gathered to cry for them and dance for them and get wasted for them. And they would still say, But this is not right. It is a cemetery!

The company I worked for when I answered the telephone for the cemetery in Los Angeles used to support the Terry Fox Run every September. Our bonuses, if any, would be calculated on our enthusiasm for supporting this charitable run. And every year or so, the brother of Terry Fox, who worked for the Terry Fox Foundation would come and give a speech to us in a rented hotel meeting room. The speeches would occur in the same ritual order with the Head of Personnel introducing the brother of Terry Fox, and the the Vice President of Operations saying how lucky we were that he had come to speak to us. Somewhere in the few sentences just after he told us "Terry was an ordinary guy..." when he said the words, "When I remember Terry..." the brother of Terry Fox would choke up and begin to cry. For a minute or half a minute he would be too choked to have a voice before he could go on with his practiced speech.

And when we left the hotel meeting room everyone would say how moving it was. The ability to cry in sympathy while you watched the brother of Terry Fox cry was worth about twenty dollars in bonus, but that was only paid out if you actually put in a minimum of two hours volunteering for a fund raiser from your time off. You had to put in unpaid time to get the bonuses. I felt better about not getting them when I calculated that the people who did get bonus were being paid rather less than minimum wage.

So is that moment when he says, "When I remember Terry..." a holy moment to the brother of Terry Fox? The cynical side of me says yes. Any moment when he can get dramatic attention and hefty amounts of cash is going to be quite holy to him, a moment to live for, a moment to cherish, a moment even to hate for its intensity. The less cynical side of me say he was fake crying.

So to me I look at the man who has memorialized his son, with the scholarships and things and community activism, who is attempting to make his son immortal this way and I don't like him. : ( What he's doing, feels to me like its social climbing; it's demanding attention, it's milking other people's emotions. You can't tell him he's wrong to monopolize the conversation about his son! He's bereaved father! He's playing our good manners against us. And yet... why shouldn't he do so? I recognize that my dislike is irrational. Is there any reason to think he is insincere in his grief? Is his personal culture which values these things, sports and recognition, and making speeches in the municipal arena, any less valid than my personal culture which loathes these things? Is he exploiting his son's memory or grieving?

And what about the other man? Is he refusing to let the other man grieve? Is he denying the father the chance for a memorial because he was denied his chance for a memorial for his adopted son? Is he angry because something that can be offensive and intrusive is being forced on him? You can't know. The questions are too nebulous to come up with a yes or no answer. They're the wrong questions.

The right question is, what would make both men happier?
posted by Jane the Brown at 11:39 AM on October 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


There is a proper type of memorial for this sort of situation. It's called a gravestone.

People die all the time, everywhere. If everyone who deserved a memorial got one, the whole damn world would be covered with mouldering teddy bears, faded ribbons, and burned out votive candles.


But a good portion of the people with gravestones died of what used to be called a "natural death", i.e., after a long life and of some expected cause. Accidental deaths of a healthy, productive person who thought they had many years to go can be a lot more traumatic for those left behind. Memorials outside the graveyard are not so strange for harder kinds of deaths.

We make specific memorials in the center of town for soldiers or firemen who die in the line of duty, but these purposeless deaths can hardly be given that kind of official recognition. Parents and friends often try to start memorial funds or organizations for young people who die of a disease or illness, but the best that can be done for road accidents is to join MADD or lobby for road safety, and sometimes it is just the driver's error anyway. That doesn't stop it from being tragic, though...

Really, I'd bet that this era will be looked back on with horror in another century (once the robot cars evade fatal accidents) that we allowed so many to die awful, preventable deaths for the sake of getting around more quickly... It hardly seems too much to ask that people be allowed to grieve in public, and also may not be such a bad thing that we are reminded of the cost of driving.
posted by mdn at 12:01 PM on October 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


mdn: "But a good portion of the people with gravestones died of what used to be called a "natural death", i.e., after a long life and of some expected cause. Accidental deaths of a healthy, productive person who thought they had many years to go can be a lot more traumatic for those left behind. Memorials outside the graveyard are not so strange for harder kinds of deaths. "

You've inspired me to go put up a cross at the park where my dad had a heart attack and died one morning. After all, all those people out exercising need to know that it can be deadly.

On second thought, no, the grave he shares with my mother is a fine memorial.
posted by wierdo at 3:59 PM on October 14, 2012


Hmmm . . . I keep seeing comments here that boil down to, "but it doesn't make sense!" or "I wouldn't want that!" But grief doesn't make sense, does it? I mean, grieving is a strange, inexplicable process and everybody's grief is different. And, sure, some of these memorials are at least partly motivated by things other than grief. But I'm really reluctant to tell people how they can grieve just because I don't want to look at it or I don't want to think about all the people that die every day on the freeway. And I don't want to tell people that they have to grieve silently in private if it would comfort them to make a public display of it. I can put up with some "disintegrating teddy bears" in my life; it's not so hard compared to burying a child.

When my father died, my SO and I were sort of snickering about some of the junk for sale in the funeral home, like the glass necklaces that you could have made with the ash of "your loved one." I couldn't imagine doing that for my father. But I quit smiling when I realized that I would really, really want that if I lost my SO. If he were gone, well, just the thought of wearing a bit of him next to my heart is making me tear up right now.

It doesn't make sense. It just doesn't and it's not going to. But that doesn't mean it isn't very important to people.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 6:50 PM on October 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm going to use my love's cremation grit on my cereal, so that we can truly re-unite.

(this idea brought to you by a reasonably good pinot gris table wine)
posted by five fresh fish at 7:08 PM on October 14, 2012


They are also an appropriation of public space for private purposes which pisses me off.

Yikes. How do you cope? I save that kind of hatefullness for jags who slap up coroplast commercial signage on every pole and chainlink fence. I'm weirded out both your heartfelt concern for the hassle it creates for road crews and your apparent "gimme" on ghost bikes which represent the same logistical challenge -- typically moreso as the bikes I've seen are always resiliently chained to a post. If the Jesus bit offends you more than someone who won't be home for supper ever fucking again for needless reasons, I suppose that's the hard heart you're dealt. Best of luck in your time of loss.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 7:59 PM on October 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm not sure what you mean by "gimme" on ghost bikes; I'm not a fan of those either. I was mearly point out that not all memorials in our neck of the woods are the standard cross. Like I said if we have to have these things something unobtrusive that doesn't create work for others (like a plaque set flush with the earth or a small medallion stuck to an abutment) is what should be used. Basically if you can see it without looking for it it's too big.

As far as the Jesus bit goes, ya I find proselytizing in public spaces distasteful. And I find using someone's death as an instrument of propaganda especially distasteful. But I'm not sure why I should be offended that someone has died.
posted by Mitheral at 8:34 PM on October 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


"A person counts as an asshole when, and only when, he systematically allows himself to enjoy special advantages in interpersonal relations out of an entrenched sense of entitlement that immunizes him against the complaints of other people."
posted by dragonsi55 at 4:18 AM on October 15, 2012


The generous winds
That carried my father's ashes
Have left behind his bones,
The playthings of ants.
Next season's building birds
Will know nothing
Of the man.
posted by pointless_incessant_barking at 2:36 PM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


But a good portion of the people with gravestones died of what used to be called a "natural death", i.e., after a long life and of some expected cause.

I'd be cautious about making this comparison. I'm not sure what a "good portion" is or how long ago "used to be" was, but accidental deaths occur at lower prevalence now than ever before in recorded history. More people today die of disease - chronic or degenerative - but sudden death from illness or accident was high all through the nineteenth century, falling off i a very gradual but stead progression throughout the 20th. Life expectancy has only gone up.
posted by Miko at 9:36 PM on October 15, 2012


Why do people feel entitled to maintain these "memorials" at spots where loved ones died? And why do they want to? I don't really understand wanting to remember someone's violent death. These have always intruiged me.
posted by agregoli at 8:55 AM on October 16, 2012


Miko, that "used to be" was just meant to refer to the idea of a natural death - it seems like we specify causes a lot more now, but I don't have a date for that change.

The point was just that it's a small portion of deaths that are unexpected and early in life. Of those, some of them have already-established methods of dealing with the greater shock, like civic monuments or marches for the cure. Car crashes are totally unexpected but there isn't really a good way to memorialize the person. I don't think it's surprising that an effort is made at the site. It's a tragedy, not just a death, and though every death is sad, not every death is a tragedy.
posted by mdn at 4:29 PM on October 17, 2012


Yeah, I think it's just a presentist sort of perception. There were always causes, really. "Natural death" is just what might appear in obituaries, but people could usually characterize a cause of death for other people, even hundreds of years ago. It gets better and clearer continually as people cotton onto public health ideas in the 19th century. But "natural causes" killing an aged person in previous years usually just meant cancer, congestive heart failure, pneumonia, etc.

Yes, accidents in early life are much rarer now than ever in the past, so maybe that is part of the increase in monumentalizing and memorializing. It's rarer, less expected, more shocking. In the past, 50 years ago and more say, it just wasn't unheard of for someone in their teen or 20s or 30s to die of accident - particularly on the job.
posted by Miko at 6:09 PM on October 17, 2012


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