I have seen many of these memorials, but it was actually the disappearance of one that prompted this post (it was “cleaned up by the city”).
I had thought that these memorials were uniquely American (cultural conceit?), but a quick Google Search cured that misconception. They occur the world over. There are references to Ireland, Australia, South America, and they are mentioned in the Middle Ages and in “Ancient Times”. However, they do seem to be occurring with increasing frequency and the events they memorialize are getting broader (car accident to “all” deaths).
Why do we have/make these memorials and why are they increasing in numbers? The death of a loved one is a very difficult experience, particularly a sudden, unexpected death. There is sudden grief and a feeling of loss of personal control, rudderlessness or anchorlessness, (again neologisms) in the world around us. There is a desire to make some sense of the death. There is a need for closure (or as closed as we can come). There is a desire not to forget or to seem that we have forgotten. Depending on the cause of death, there is a desire to warn others so that they won’t die similarly and so that others won’t have to live through the same experience you are living through. Are we less in control of our daily lives, do these sudden deaths hit us even harder than in previous times? Do we have a greater need to express our personal spirituality separate from and/or in addition to more traditional religious practices, post-death rituals? Are we just more social/public in our displays of grief? Am I way off base and they are just happening because they are happening?
At least think about it next time you see one of the memorials and you doff your hat or send up a little prayer for the individuals so memorialized.