Accidental Memorial explores a side of grief we don’t often acknowledge in American culture. Americans see ourselves as very orderly and peaceful when it comes to death–we perform the proper death rituals, grieve in public for a bit and then private for longer, and then move on. Some of us memorialize our departed loved one’s life with pictures, stories, music, or other celebrations.
But there’s a darker side that we don’t like to acknowledge often, that focuses on the actual death and the moment and means of passing. I started noticing these makeshift memorials about a decade ago. Family and friends of someone who died put markers and items on the site of their loved one’s death. Many are on the side of the road where their loved one was killed in a vehicular accident, but some are at other death sites, such as the end of a runway where a plane crashed, crime scenes, and burned out houses. In some cases these memorials are in the exact spot where the person died. A battered tree on the side of a back country road which shows the scars of a vehicle hitting it at high speeds. Outside a motel room where a drug addict took their last breath.
Just what causes people to want to erect crosses, lay flowers, place other trinkets at or near where their loved one lost their life? I assume their lives are memorialized somewhere else. These memorials commemorate–almost fetishistically–the person’s death.
These accidental memorials are similar to the altars constructed for loved ones for the Mexican religious holiday Day of the Dead, which honors ancestors who have passed along with honoring their actual passing. But they’re integrated into the land of the living because they’re erected permanently in the spot at which the person died, and we walk and drive around them as we live our lives.