Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Death, Be Not Proud, But At Least Be As Dignified As Possible

No matter where you live, I know you've all seen them. Even if you haven't seen one in actuality, you've at least seen them on television during reports of tragic deaths either by gun violence, traffic accidents, or even acts of terrorism. They're often spontaneous, many times poignant, and always well-meaning.

I'm talking about the makeshift memorials that appear at the site of a terrible and sad death. They are very common in Cleveland, for example, these displays of stuffed animals, candles, balloons, and flowers intermingled with hand-lettered posters and cards and notes and photos, even some paintings and sketches of the deceased or murdered. Along two of the highways I drive frequently are faded wreaths, their significance unknown to me. I have no idea who they mourn, and now they look dirty and bedraggled. I find myself feeling worse about the condition of the memorial than what could have happened there.

Then I feel guilty for being shallow. Then I feel resentful about the way our culture deals with death. Then I berate myself for being so complex in my own feelings about death. Then I push a bunch of buttons on the radio and try to think about something else.

Today, however, I saw an entirely different sort of Memorial. I was absolutely amazed, and you know that word is not one that I use lightly. Here it is; tell me what you think:

It suddenly appeared before me in traffic, and thank heaven I had enough time to snap a photo.  The back window is painted, for those of you who cannot make it out clearly, with the words "Rest In Heaven Angy Anne' 11-25-98  8-29-15."  

Never before in my life have I seen this sort of Mobile Memorial.  I have seen cars painted to announce softball championships, high school senior jubilation, graduation joy, wedding elation, birthday announcement, driver's license success, the fact that a certain team is bound for state competition, and to inform me that "Lordy, Lordy, Someone Is Forty", but never that someone is dead and that the driver wishes her to be at peace in the afterlife.

Let me add this to the List Of Things No One Should Do When He Or She Hears That I Am Dead.  Driving around with a back-window announcement of my passing is, to me, actually worse than posting it on PinTwitFace.  It is actually more undignified, if that is possible.  It is worse than passing it in a note during study hall or class or, if you go, church.  I would absolutely rather it be announced during, oh, almost any event except perhaps a Toby Keith or Miley Cyrus concert.  I would rather have it be a singing telegram sent to someone and performed in a gorilla suit--no!--a gorilla in a tutu--than have anyone drive around with the news of my passing shoe-polished on the back window of his Chevrolet.  Or Honda.  Or even her Nissan Leaf, as environmentally friendly as that car is.

Please, in Comments, tell me I am Not Alone.

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  1. I don't like those makeshift memorials by the side of the road. Isn't that what the cemetery is for? Just saying…

    I don't like the idea of someone using his or her car to announce to the world that I'm gone. I've never seen a handmade one like in the photo, but I have seen cars with clear stickers on the back window that commemorate a fallen soldier. That, to me, makes a bit more sense. I guess.

    1. Ally Bean--I guess I don't get it. What exactly is the point? "Hey, everybody! So-and-so is DEAD!" That sort of thing is not really a joyful, Tell Everyone sort of announcement that is wonderful for Sharing. It's not exactly pleasant. The vast majority of onlookers will not know the Person, and in this case, it is not "news." So...again...not sure of the Point. It seems enormously Morbid.

  2. Nance, those back window memorials are not rare around here. I wish they were. Every time I see one, I wince. Most say things like "Cruising in Memory of ..." or "Riding in Style Thinking of ..." They are awful. I feel the same way about the makeshift roadside memorials. Neither are a dignified way to remember someone. I've told Mr. GFE and Son that these things can not be done for me. They would not, but I want to make myself clear.

    When Son lost his roommate so tragically, there was a huge makeshift memorial created at the scene of his roommate's accident and he literally had to change the way he got everywhere to avoid it. It's even been suggested that the memorials on the side of the road cause more accidents because people get distracted looking at them and I believe it's true.

    Sorry, I've been AWOL. I really hope to catch up at some point. Happy belated 10th blogiversary! You were definitely one of the pioneers and are pretty much blogging the same way now as then. My hats off to you, dear!


    1. Shirley--Oh my. The little clever catchphrases make it even worse. I am struggling--Mightily--to understand the motivation behind this entire phenomenon.

      In the case of your son, that is yet another facet. Some people don't want a constant reminder of the tragedy that befell their loved one. They'd like to remember the person at his or her best, not merely the death over and over again. The memorials that spring up are poignant and sweet for the most part, but then it becomes a case of "When is it okay to take this away without hurting feelings and looking as if we are being insensitive and making a negative statement about the deceased and the circumstances of his death?"

      Finally, thank you for your kudos. While I can't say that I was a pioneer (or I'd have a book deal or be making a retirement income from this blog!), I can agree that I have stayed true to myself and my mission. Nice to see you here, as always.

  3. I see them here in Philadelphia too. Ugh.

    I've told my husband that if I have an unfortunate end and he allows those candles/balloons/stuffed animals type of memorials to happen, I'm coming back from the dead, beating the crap out of him, and then going back to being dead.

    1. Bridget--Hello! Welcome to the Dept, and thanks for commenting! It would seem that these Mobile Memorials are finally making it into the sleepy suburbs of Ohio. Aren't we Lucky! How I wish you all had kept them in your geographic locales.

      Now that your husband has his marching orders, you had better behave. I'd hate to think that he can use a chaotic street memorial as a threat to you to, say, make a chocolate cake, let him go to Vegas with his buddies, or perform some bedroom highjinks. Imagine:

      Mr. Bridget: Hey, honey, let's fool around.
      Bridget: Ugh. I just got done showering and my show is on.
      Mr. Bridget: Okay. But when you die, I'm letting the neighborhood put up some balloons, teddy bears, and white pillar candles in our cul de sac.
      Bridget: Damn you. Set the DVR and let's go.

  4. I've not seen a car painted like this, but I have seen one painted professionally, permanantly, with the information of someone having passed. Regarding the road side memorials, I don't like nor dislike them, but they do make me sad in the short term, and sadder as they become bedraggled and worn out. I wonder if they gained popularity when Diana died? The outpouring of grief in front of Buckingham Palace was heartbreaking.

    1. J@jj--Like a car tattoo? Holy crap. That for sure will affect its resale value.

      And with regard to Princess Diana, the opposite is true: the American practice of makeshift memorials is credited with crossing the pond and influencing the phenomenon at Buckingham Palace.

      From research, I've also learned that a big influence has been the Vietnam Memorial in D.C., where people continue to leave items even today.

    2. Interesting notes! And yeah, permanent on the car.

  5. I've seen the pop-up roadside memorials, but have never seen the writing on cars. Of course, that probably has more to do with not living in the US than anything, I suppose. And whilst I agree it's quite undignified, there's a small, wistful part of me that thinks it's kind of touching that someone wants everyone -including complete strangers on the roadways- to know that a person Was There and is Now Gone and Very Much Missed. Now that we don't all live in small towns with graveyards hard by the local church where we 'see' our late beloveds on a regular basis, it's an interesting way that people have come up with to provide themselves and society with regular, accessible daily reminders. And in the US, where people more or less live in their cars, it makes sense for those reminders to be car-related, doesn't it? So, no, I wouldn't want anyone to write my name on a car, but yes...I'd like to be remembered -and maybe missed a little.

    1. MsCaroline--You have been away a very long time.

      It's quaint and sweet to think this way, yes, but the last two verbs in your Comment are, I think, key. "Remembered" and "Missed." The vast majority of people on the streets and highways will not know the name of the person painted on the back window of the car--if, in fact, it will even be able to be read, going at speeds of 25-70 mph. That person will be a stranger. So, he or she will not be Remembered or Missed, merely read and noted or, as we are doing here, talked about, at the very mildest.

      I do find it interesting (along with amazing and very disappointing, from a cultural standpoint).

      The town I live in--less than 50K residents--while small, still astounds me in that I constantly am surrounded by people I do not know and have never seen before. Trust me when I say that I am fine with that.

      Sometimes I wonder if this sort of thing is less about Wistful Remembrance and more about Facebook-esque Blabbing Drama Attention Seeking and Inserting Oneself Into Every Possible Life Situation.

  6. You are not alone.

    We have those makeshift memorials all along the mountain roads. The most egregious one I've seen was for a teen who was driving while intoxicated, hit a tree at high speed and died instantly. At his makeshift memorial one of his classmates had placed a six-pack of beer with the sign "your favorite brew from your favorite buddy."

    1. NCmountainwoman--Thank you for your appreciated support.

      Your example is both shocking and moronically ironic. I can't even give voice/space here to the myriad snarky comebacks that have immediately sprung to mind. They're too easy.


  7. We have the stickers here that J mentioned. Usually for a member of the military, but not always.

    I am going to say something that is possibly sacrilegious, but given the relatively short time frame of the deceased's life and the unusual nickname, might it be a pet?

    Which would make it even more unusual, but that is where my mind went.

    Crossing my fingers I don't get struck by lightning any time soon.

    1. Gina--I'm sure it's entirely possible--anything is--but 17 is pretty old for a pet, and Angy may just be an alternative spelling for Angie. Our area is one of many plagued by odd spellings and ...Creative Names. A young man went through my school whose name was Jjiimmeellee, pronounced Ja-mel. I know, I know.

  8. Have you seen this (warning, there is a photo of a dead raccoon - but it's not gross): http://www.vanmeerfreepress.com/road-side-memorial-set-up-in-toronto-for-dead-raccoon/

    Regarding the roadside memorials, sometimes I actually pay attention when I see one to see if the area is particularly hazardous. Do I need to slow down? Will people randomly dart into traffic here? But I admit that mostly I just ignore them...

    I have seen bumper stickers memorializing a loved one. Many of those are for people who've had a serious illness & who had bumper stickers from when they were alive - and usually have a "team" of folks pulling for them (Harvey's Heroes or something like that).

    1. Bug--No, I had not. Can you possible imagine the messes if this were done for all the dead varmints on the roads in the US? Goodness. But those cheeky Canadians--I love them even more now. Thanks for the alert to this item.

      I really do understand this sentimentality and esprit de corps (for lack of a better term); I just do not like it and I find it terribly undignified. Death/dying is not a team sport or a drama or a soap opera or public spectacle. At least mine will not (BETTER NOT) be.

  9. The first one of the roadside memorials I saw was in New Mexico about 20 years ago. Now I see them everywhere. I guess we do not have many dignified ways of mourning. Look at the way people acted when Diana was killed. But car window signs have to be one of the most miserable ones.
    Our family either inters ashes under a memorial stone or scatters them ... one of my aunts requested us to put her in the sugar bush to fertilize a tree.
    I plan on being one tree over, but really, to be serious, funeral rituals are for the mourners. They can do what they like, but if it includes a bumper sticker, I will haunt the whole bunch of them. There should be a way to set that up, no?

    1. Mary G--I do agree that funeral rituals are for the mourners, and I have said as much to my husband and sons. They need to do what They Need To Do, but if it were up to me, I want nothing more than cremation and, like you and Walt Whitman, to , as he says in Song 52,
      "...depart as air, I shake my white locks at the runaway sun,
      I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags.
      I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love...."

      I wonder if the Fifteen Seconds Of Fame phenomenon, wherein everyone inserts himself or herself into every single thing, or this penchant of turning every blessed moment or occurrence into An Event is responsible for much of hyping everything, even death. Almost nothing is Dignified anymore. Not graduations, not weddings, not anything. Any small occurrence or achievement is inflated and overly celebrated. Everyone wants to be a celebrity, however minor. Even by proxy, in death.


Oh, thank you for joining the fray!

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