Roadside Death Markers

We've all seen them I'm sure. Particularly in the southern U.S. where many believe it began. That which looks to be a grave marker on the side of the road. Roadside death markers. Usually a cross. Sometimes flowers. Sometimes a little sign. Or a teddy bear or bicycle even.  It has become so popular there are business'  offering design and/or construction of them. The origin of roadside death markers can be traced back to ancient Greece and give some to defend this form of mourning as an example of a civilized society. This practice seems to have gained popularity in our culture the last decade or two. There are those that believe it promotes Christianity. Some think it will deter driving under the influence or while distracted. Others that they are a distraction themselves. In some areas it has become a battle between free expression and public policy. Let's look at what's going on with these things across America.

Medieval Spain practiced erecting a cross on the roadside where a loved one died offering an explanation as to why they are so popular in New Mexico where they are referred to as descansos, Spanish for "place of rest." Many of the folks erecting these home made memorials do it believing the soul lingers near the marker, so for the family the spot becomes sacred. They are so popular here some news papers announce new descansos when they are placed.

South Dakota's Dept. of Transportation has an official marker that has no time limit for posting. The front side stating, "Think! Drive Safely" and the back side proclaiming, "Why Die? Drive Safely" with a red "X" with the words, "Marks The Spot" around the "X". Multiple fatalities calls for the signs to be placed 10 feet apart.

The Atlantic City Expressway allows markers to be placed for 10 days in New Jersey after which they must be taken down. Placement must be under police escort. Wisconsin also has a time limit these may be displayed.

Because the memorials normally feature religious symbols and are placed on state property it raises church-state constitutional concerns among some. In 2001, The Freedom From Religion Foundation based in Madison, Wisconsin successfully defended a Denver man after he removed a religious roadside memorial.

Massachusetts has banned them and Delaware has established a memorial park near a highway exit in an effort to discourage roadside shrines.

Cheryl Miller, an Illinois mother who lost her son to a distracted driver reaching for a cigar and plowed into the rear of her husband's motionless car killing her 5 year old son in 2008, pressed her state's Senate to pass Senate Bill 3803 unanimously. She pushed this as she wanted a roadside marker for her son's memory. Not available to her at the time as her son wasn't killed by an intoxicated driver.

Colorado banned roadside memorials until the ACLU got involved, then compromised on allowing rectangular, white lettered on blue signs with a red "X" that could be placed for 2 years.

Markers were banned in Florida in 1997. RoadsideAmerica.com reports a $100 payment was made by Disneyworld Central, a radio station broadcasting from Orlando to anyone who removed one from the roadside and brought it to the station. Now, highway fatalities are marked with a small round sign stating," Drive Safely" with an additional line that says "In Memory Victims Name" in lettering so small that to read it one would have to slow down so quickly it may cause an accident. If not another reason to put up another sign.

In an effort to bring awareness to the dangers of driving while under the influence of alcohol, California, Montana and Texas allows memorials placed only for those killed by intoxicated drivers. Which was what Mrs. Miller was engaged against in Illinois for in wanting a marker for her son.

The popularity of roadside memorials has encouraged some to offer an online database of where memorials may be registered such as Memorial Hiway. At the time of this writing however there was only one listing.

My view on this? I understand the shock, trauma and sorrow carried by losing a loved one. My only son died tragically too young. That was two years ago and what's left of my family will never be the same. However, I never felt the urge to memorialize the spot he took his last breath.

How far is this going to go? Memorialize what ever that person had for a last meal? The last song listened to? The last place he/she wiped his/her ass? If this trend continues for another generation we may be looking at long lines of these things for miles!

I  have no desire to force my sorrow on any one else. Which is exactly what these roadside death markers do to many. I hate driving by these things having to realize someone may have died there and knowing the anguish that death put on that family. I say "may have" as many of these victims die in the hospital or while on route to one. If someone dies from choking in a restaurant, should the family be allowed to put a memorial in the exact spot in the restaurant? Besides, the family and friends of a lost loved one would normally know the spot. Is it really necessary to broadcast that to the world?

I guarantee you won't find Jesus Christ in a grave!
Road side death markers don't promote Christianity. They promote death. Christianity, in my view seems to be obsessed with and is known for promoting death. There are crosses everywhere. Crosses were tools for painfully executing criminals. A crucifix didn't become a symbol of Christianity until the 4th century. Because of one ruler's decree and being passed down through thousands of generations it has become a knee-jerk reaction to think "Christianity" when one sees a symbol of what would cause someone a slow, suffocating death. The "cross" Christ bore for us was spiritual, not physical. He took all the sins of man with him when he died. Yes Christ died for us (being falsely accused) but that's not where the power lies in what was accomplished for believers. The power lies in his resurrection and ascension. He had to overcome death and be seated at the right hand of God to be our saviour. He is our supreme example of breaking free of the fear of death by showing us that through death he defeated death. And sin which ushered in death to man. Doesn't God's Word tell us in Romans 10:9 we must believe that God raised him from the dead? What good is a dead saviour? Christians all over the world celebrate what is referred to as Easter but how many know when the Day of Pentecost is? The day it was made available for all of mankind to be freed from the fear of death!

It hurts me tremendously I won't see my son again in this realm or share any of the rest of my natural life with him. But I take comfort in knowing I will see him in the next administration, the next life as I know he did what was needed to make that available to him. Maybe that's why these roadside death markers are becoming so popular. Without an accurate knowledge of the truth of the Scriptures there is no hope. I'm not sure I'll ever be completely healed in this flesh and blood body by the tragedy of losing my son to death temporarily but I believe it's a lack of understanding in these most terrible situations that hinders healing for most people that suffer such loss.

Related Links

Cheryl Miller's post on Facebook
Death Can Really Suck The Death Out Of You...
He Is Risen graphic from free-christian-wallpapers.blogspot.com