Roadside Memorials

I drove from one town to another yesterday to meet my mother for lunch.  On my way out of town I followed a country road and passed a telephone pole with a picture of a young man stapled to it.  Under his photo were bunches of flowers and some stuffed animals.

I had read about him just last week.  He was very young, only eighteen I believe, and he was a local athlete about to travel to represent his town in a competition.  I can’t remember the sport; I just remember thinking how sad that his bright future was cut short so soon.  I also read that speed and alcohol were thought to be a factor.  🙁

As I drove by and saw the roadside memorial I wondered about the people that had placed the flowers and stuffies there. Who were they to him and how, if at all, did this memorial help them to heal?  Did they do it so that people would remember this young man and say “ah, this is where it happened”, or did they do it as a warning that this part of the road had claimed a life so slow down or it could be you next? Why are so many people inclined to put up these roadside memorials?  On my way back home later in the day I passed three more along a different highway.

I tried to imagine if I would do the same if my son were killed on a stretch of highway. (A. Very. Painful. Exercise I can tell you.) I don’t know.  I just don’t know if I would be drawn to or repelled by the place that witnessed his last breath.  Would I feel that I was closer to him there; that there was some invisible doorway and if I stayed close I might get another glimpse of him?  When I look at that telephone pole I am reminded of a violent end to a young mans life.  I tend to believe that is what I would see if he were my own son and that vision would keep me from the place.  But again, I don’t really know for sure and I hope I never find out.

My husband is not a fan of roadside memorials.  He doesn’t think memorials belong along roads.  That it should be a more private affair and not shared with motorists who are becoming immune to seeing them anyway because there are so many now. In the past I’ve been moved by some and I have to admit I’ve also thought some were…well…kinda tacky looking but I don’t mind them being there.  If it gives some degree of comfort to those who have lost a loved one then what’s the harm I say.  But would I feel the need to visit the exact spot my loved one was taken from me? I just don’t know.  What do you think?  Are roadside memorials helpful or a little macabre?

p.s.  Don’t forget to turn all your lights off Saturday night  (march 26) at 8:30pm.  It’s Earth Hour again!


  • Jane

    No parent should have to go through losing a child.Knowing two couples that have lost their children over a year ago and still have not gotten over it. If a road side memorial helps the grieving process then good. Just makes me sad to see so many.

  • Chris

    I saw that roadside memorial last weekend on my way home. Very sad. He was 18 and he was a rookie on UBCO’s men’s volleyball team. He graduated from a local high school just last June. The team had just won the provincials and the team was leaving for the Nationals 4 days later. He was a very good player and had a bright future.
    I think the roadside memorials help younger people deal with the loss of a friend. I’m not sure, as an adult, if I could visit the site of an accident that took a friend or family member. As you say Bonnie, it’s helpful for some, while for others it might add to the pain.
    RIP J.Y.

  • Tracy Westerholm

    I have been fortunate to not have lost someone close to me in a tragic life ending way on the highway. Driving by would be a reminder of the tragedy for sure but in time might bring a smile to ones face when thinking of their beautiful spirit.

    I lost my second cousin Casey on the highway, no alcohol involved he fell asleep at the wheel. My misfortune was not knowing him, at his funeral service it was obvious he touched many lives in the short time he was with us! Very sad indeed.

    I think I would be compelled to visit the site where my relations spirit was set free as a way to move on in life, therapeutic perhaps!

    Live well everyone, in the moment, none of us know when or where our last moments will be spent! I want those close to me to come to say goodbye where ever my spirit is released. What if those close to us wait for us there? I would have to go…

  • Francesco

    Hi… I lost several friends when I was a teenager. The simple Icon of any memorial will make a bit more sense when you’re involved and know the person(s). This form of display has many imperfections. I suggest to you, in my own flawed way, that maybe our culture is growing into a new direction with this form of “display of love”. It may become another part of a funeral service… we’ll see. I think its Ok. As I typed this, I recalled my images of the roadside Icons from 1976…

  • jacquie

    Growing up in Vancouver, I don’t recall ever seeing a roadside memorial, so when I saw my first, about 20 years ago, it really made an impression on me. Then, on a trip to Mexico, I was dumbstruck by the number and frequency of the roadside memorials I saw on highways and surface streets. I found this bit of info on the history of these markers:

    The origin of roadside crosses in the United States has its roots with the early Hispanic settlers of the Southwestern United States, and are common in areas with large Hispanic populations. Formerly, in funerary processions where a group would process from a church to a graveyard carrying a coffin, the bearers would take a rest, or “descanso” in Spanish, and wherever they set the coffin down, a cross would be placed there in memory of the event. The modern practice of roadside shrines commemorate the last place a person was alive before being killed in a car crash, even if they should die in the hospital after the crash.
    In the southwestern United States, they are also common at historic parajes on old long distance trails, going back to the roots of the tradition, and also marked the graves of people who died while traveling. A descanso may be decorated specially for the holidays, and for significant anniversaries in the person’s life. A descanso for a child may be decorated with special toys, even toy vignettes of family life, and votive candles may be placed there on special nights.

    Would I want to visit one? I think I would take comfort in seeing the spot recognized. The hardest thing about a loss is feeling the emptiness, and a marker of any kind keeps the memory alive. Let’s hope we never have to find out how we’d really feel…

  • Richard

    Where and how does one grieve loss?
    My dad died a natural death seven years ago(My God I wish I could hear his voice today when I speak to him). His final resting spot is 500 km from my home. I think of him daily and choose to celebrate my memories of him rather than grieve loss.
    So it seemed so natural the last time I was winding past “his Tree” on my motorbike to stop and listen for his voice. Just being near his trapped earthly remains helped me feel closer to his free spirit. It seemed even more natural to lay down beside him, much like a small child does, and sleep deeply. My tears upon waking were real and welcome.
    What’s my point? I’m guessing that he isn’t visited very often there. Some might even call “his Tree” a silly sentiment. But I will go back and seek him there – and he will be there for me.
    With that in mind do I dare question the motivation of the heart that creates any memorial?

    • Bonnie Johnson

      Lovely Rick. I get why so many create memorials like these as ways to connect to their loved ones, but would I? I don’t know. Thanks for sharing your experience with us. I don’t think “his tree” is a silly sentiment at all. I would never question any ones motivation to create a memorial but I wonder out loud ( out blog-oud?) if I would find comfort in such a memorial myself.
      I tend to feel like Spirit is all around us at all times so I’m not sure if I could find one place to focus my thoughts on for comfort. Maybe…

  • Ted

    There are so many roadside accidents each year and losing a friend in a roadside accident, it is a hard thing to go through. I used to wonder why people put up these memorial crosses when they have a gravestone where he is buried. They said it helps them grieve and remember him where he was last living. (In this life.)
    They went out and bought a wooden cross that was nice, but after one winter in ohio, it didn’t hold up. They then bought a cross from It is made of a thick durable plastic and came with a plate that they had their son’s name and a saying that he used to always say.
    It has lasted 3 years now and still is holding up nice. I just know, these things never happen when it is convienient for anyone, so if you should ever be in the need of a memorial cross, these ones will last.
    Anyways, now when I pass a roadside memorial, it is not hurting me one bit, and knowing now that that cross is helping someone through life, let it be.

  • Joe arduengo

    I would put one up. A simple white cross with the name. Flowers at birthdays and holidays. There is nothing wrong with it. Looks better than a lot of these tacky billboards. I think it would help with healing.

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