This was an article I wrote a few months ago but I thought it was something worth sharing again for a couple of reasons.
1) Far too many people continue to be killed on our roads and as such memorialised with a roadside cross.
2) Memorials continue to be a wonderful way of honouring lives and healing hearts in remembering our loved ones.
In my local town, with a population of 3400, a roadside cross has just been erected for a young man killed too soon. It is simple yet uniquely designed and crafted, placed so as not to be a nuisance to drivers passing by.
On a stretch of quiet country road is another cross, lovingly erected many years ago and now aging amongst the tree litter whilst the trees grow up alongside tall and proud.
This article was written at a time when there was talk of banning them altogether in Western Australia. It caused a furore and the status quo remains. Popping up more frequently now are Roadside Cross Policies, which some may be aware of, some not. And so it continues………..
Once you have read the article, I would love you to share your comments and thoughts about whether you believe they are worthwhile symbols of loss or merely a nusiance factor to drivers.
Dotting the roadside fringes in urban and rural locations, we cannot help but bear witness to the increasing numbers of roadside crosses dotted around our Australian landscape. The media over recent months have reported on the move to ban them altogether, raising discussion that they serve as unwanted distractors to drivers. With our road toll always much higher than anyone would want, is it going to be a valid recommendation or a needless attempt at focusing on something that provokes emotional discomfort in the general public rather than indeed an issue of valid concern?
I had no idea that roadside crosses or in essence roadside memorials are also known as “descansos”, from the Spanish translation meaning resting places. Dr Barbara Jacquay has been studying them for many years, particularly in Arizona and has photographed over 1000 simple, elaborate and detailed descansos.
This then, is not an issue simply confined to Australia but a worldwide phenomenon. It certainly raised the question for me; “Why do survivors of loss have the need to memorialise loved ones in such a public way?”
Young people have been dying on our roads for years and years. I know this because I have spoken to many people in their senior years, seventies or eighties, who have indeed lost loved ones in motor vehicle accidents, many years prior. However, I can’t recall the plethora of roadside memorials until perhaps the last 10-15 years. Barbara Jacquay says they can be traced back in America to the conquistadors and Spanish priests, hence the name descansos, becoming increasingly popular through the late 80’s onwards.
Many authorities have tried to ban them altogether or impose restrictions on type and detail. Some of the reasons why include:
• Distraction to drivers, especially very elaborate memorials
• Bad positioning
• Safety issues (erecting a cross, someone was actually killed themselves!)
• Ongoing maintenance problems
• Interference with construction/maintenance of verges etc
• Considered by some as roadside litter
One of the more positives approaches a local high school in the south west of Western Australia has taken is by getting their students to find out more about the story behind many of their local roadside crosses. They have linked each cross to a photograph of, in this case, a high school student who died and include a short summary of the circumstances surrounding each accident. This has had the effect of making an anonymous demonstration of loss on our roads become personal, with the view to acting as a highly motivating deterrant to the high school students involved.
It has become a socially accepted norm that most of our loved ones are cremated when they die. This then means, there may no longer be a place to visit, to remember, to ritualise grief in a safe, accepted place. For many, roadside memorials are ways of connecting still and remembering the person who has died. This might be particularly so, for young people who have very little other mementos of their friend to hang on to and remember. None of us want to ever forget those we have loved and lost, so this “new” ritual, descansos, can be for many, a welcome place to visit, to remember, and honour their friends and loved ones.