FACE TO FACE: Should roadside shrines to the dead be allowed?
Isupport the limiting of the ubiquitous roadside shrines we erect in memory of those who died at a particular intersection or on a certain stretch of highway.
We all empathize with the victims of horrific traffic tragedies and with their surviving friends and family. That said, it is neither helpful nor reasonable to expect everyone to be indefinitely exposed to roadside shrines each day on the way to work.
I don't think public memorials should be banned, as some U.S. states have done. These states argue that roadside shrines are a distraction to drivers, that some are unsightly and that erecting crosses on public property espouses Christianity and thus contravenes the constitutional separation of church and state.
That's not why we should discourage roadside shrines. If roadside shrines helped the victim, the surviving family and friends or the community, we would all be willing to dismiss such minor complaints - we do already, mistakenly believing we are supporting the bereaved.
Roadside shrines are erected and maintained by mourners to show the depth and duration of their grief and sensitivity. They sentence mourners to prolonged focus on the awful venue and grizzly details of the death rather than on remembering the life. Roadside shrines encourage grieving to go on and on and require all of us to bear daily witness to the public, maudlin scene.
This is why we should discourage them. Roadside shrines don't help. They serve to publicly prolong grief and preclude a crucial part of grieving: closure.
In schools, when there is a tragic death, educators often help grieving students through their initial desire for spectacular, public memorialization, like renaming the gymnasium after a lost classmate or suspending classes in memory. In such times, schools help students to realize that public memorializing is not more profound or virtuous than private grieving; that although public grieving may be gratifying to you, it's not about you. Rather, it's about being sensitive and respectful towards the family and others who have privately suffered similar, if less spectacular, losses.
If, after a tragic accident, we all knew that we could choose to erect a roadside shrine for one month, the clarity would be helpful and ultimately liberating to both the bereaved and the community.
Face to Face columnist Jim Nelson is a retired Tri-City teacher and principal who lives in Port Moody. He has contributed a number of columns on education-related issues to The Tri-City News.