Sunday, August 26, 2007

Sweet Memories or Maudlin Displays?

Opinions mixed on public tributes to victims of crashes or crimes:

It's no surprise that people have passionate opinions about the roadside memorials that dot Sonoma County.

These remembrances are a public airing of private grief, and invite reflection and comment.

We invited Press Democrat readers to offer their opinions in reaction to a story by Staff Writer Derek J. Moore about roadside memorials that have been carted away recently by an unknown person or persons.

Are they fitting tributes, or eyesores? Are they distracting to drivers, or reminders to be safe on the road?

What, if anything, should be done about them?

More than 100 readers responded in e-mails, or in online forums on

Here are some of your thoughts:

"I UNDERSTAND that some prefer to have these roadside memorials maintained as a reminder to others. We felt that it would only serve as a point for vandalism and decay and we could not endure that.

"I did not want my son's memory to serve as a painful ongoing reminder of the evils of speeding and alcohol. Perhaps selfish in my feelings, but I couldn't handle it."

-- Benita Jeppson, mother

of Daniel Stephens, 20, who died in a crash in Santa Rosa in April 2005

"IT'S HARD ENOUGH to lose a loved one, but it's kind of comforting in a way to pass the site and see the flowers, etc., that many people leave behind.

"I speak for my whole family when I say that I'm grateful that the business where the accident occurred allowed my family and friends to leave tributes and such."

-- Jimmy Pineda, Ukiah,

whose nephew and three of his

friends died in a 2005 car crash

"I FIND THE roadside death shrines to be morbidly offensive, horribly gross, and visually insulting. Those who elevate these scenes of life-ending trauma into places of worship are hugely insensitive to those of us who must suffer the repeated reminder and mental image of violence and gore as it occurred during the moment of a loved one's death.

"Personally, I don't know why anyone would want to constantly remind me of their loved one in that kind of context."

-- Mark Patty, Windsor

"WE ALL NEED to grieve and deal with our losses in different ways. If going to the site helps a grieving relative -- without causing anyone else danger because of the location of the parked vehicle or whatever -- I lean on the side of grace. It's got to be difficult to have a family member die in an accident. Why add to anyone's burden?"

-- Michelle Ule, Santa Rosa

"I DROVE BY a memorial south of Sebastopol on Highway 116 for several years. I often found myself saddened -- saddened for people I did not know, seeing raw grief and pain displayed there on the side of the road. Each life has enough pain of its own, I'd think, and I found myself wishing the family would pick an anniversary and take the memorial down so I would no longer have to share a stranger's sorrow."

-- Karen Jones, Sebastopol

"IT IS GETTING to the point that if you go to a cemetery, the flowers or remembrances that you have left are often taken by vandals. I know because it has happened to my husband's grave. I say, please, leave the roadside memorials alone so that I can say a prayer for those that have lost their lives to drunken drivers."

-- Peggy Krahl, Windsor

"OVERALL, I believe these are good and serve a purpose to remind us to drive safe. They are better than a billboard and take less time to 'read' (for those who think they are a distraction).

"My only suggestion is that they be uniform. There are states which have adopted a uniform white cross to represent where an accident took place and a life was lost."

-- John Doolittle,

Bodega Bay

"THE LOSS of a loved one used to be a private event, kept within the confines of the family. But like everything else in our society -- cell phone conversations, celebrity mishaps -- personal tragedy has to be advertised for all to see.

"The Christian religious movement especially finds every opportunity to proselytize their point of view and shame on them for using personal loss as a pulpit. I can't recall seeing statues of Buddha, Stars of David, or smiley faces dotting the countryside. Or is it that only Christians die on the road?"

-- Lee Hodo, Santa Rosa

"WHEN SOMEONE is cremated, we have no place to visit, and share our days. These memorials do that for us. And even if it got to one person, to remind them to be a little more careful when they drive, or remind them that life is too short, or to tell the people you care about how much they mean to you . . . you can't put a price on that."

-- Monica Alberigi,

Cazadero, who saw a friend

die after his car struck

a tree in 2004

"TO BE BLUNT, it pisses me off that they remove these without posting something so the loved ones can remove the things people left, including the things I put there like pictures.

"I don't believe they are distracting to drivers. It's a memorial. Too bad if you can't deal with seeing it. How do you think we feel?"

-- Lynne Barber, mother of Ashley Morse, 18, who

collapsed and died in July on Forest Hills Road in Forestville

"WITH SOME people finding comfort in the roadside shrines while others feel pain, and some seeing the shrines as welcome reminders to be safe while others see them as a distraction or an 'eyesore,' it seems that a compromise is needed.

"Perhaps a policy that allowed the shrines to be up for a period of up to one year with the stipulation that the shrines be removed by the people who put them up on the anniversary of the death of the loved one."

-- Teresa Martinelli,


"LAYING FLOWERS or a similar gesture immediately after the accident is perhaps a way of saying goodbye. Beyond that, we feel a nice tombstone at their gravesite is the appropriate memorial.

"Donate a bench at their favorite spot, plant a tree in their name, put in a nice garden. There are many possibilities."

-- Lew and Adrienne Larson, Sebastopol