Road deaths a heavy cross (and buckets) to bear

There’s a busy intersection near my house where a single-lane road briefly becomes double to intersect a dual carriageway road.  There’s a set of traffic lights in place, with median strips on each of the four intersecting arteries.

When I cross this intersection, at Read Street and Rae Road, I always look left and right at the opposing traffic no matter what time of day it is, because people have been killed at this intersection and on more than one occasion.

Within weeks of moving here in 2007 there was a horrendous crash which instantly killed a local married couple in their 50s.  The 24-year-old driver of the other vehicle was subsequently charged with an offence but I can’t remember if it was reckless driving (going through a red traffic light?) or alcohol related, or both.

And then last year there was another crash.  This was another act of carelessness which killed a woman in her late sixties and left her 70-year-old female friend with critical injuries.  And I say ‘crash’ and not ‘accident’ deliberately, because I remember from my court typing days how often road safety experts would give evidence in court about some incident that had killed or maimed or injured, and they would stress that rarely, if at all, do accidents happen on the road. They are crashes, and can be avoided if people drive safely. It’s a subtle difference, but that’s language and culture for you. Anyway, I digress.

Where the two crashes differ very much is in the way they are remembered at the intersection.  In following what has become a commonplace gesture of grief and remembrance at the location of death, roadside memorials have been put in place.

The married couple’s memorial consists of two crosses alongside each other, each with the name of the man and woman upon them, and has been placed in an out-of-the-way-yet-visible spot just back from the road – in the lower left green section of the map above, near the word “Drive” of Port Royal Drive.

Driving west on Rae Road across the intersection, I see their crosses most days. On the days when I consciously focus on them I’m always taken back to that tumultuous time in my life and how the crash and horror of their death seemed to smash me to the ground with a thud into our new environment and the shock of it all.  So theirs is a traditional and restrained memorial that does its job so beautifully and coldly: two people died here.

The death of the other poor woman is being remembered quite differently.  Instead of a cross at the side the road, her champions have gone much, much closer to the scene of the crash.  They have used two pink buckets, filled them with plastic flowers, and chained them to the traffic light pole in the median strip on Read Street.

A lot of things went through my mind when I first saw it, but my opinion has changed since then.  Where I first saw tacky, I now see it’s what could be done, and with love.  Where I first saw the location as completely inappropriate, I now see a dogged determination that what occurred right at that spot will not be forgotten.  Where I first saw the jarring of metal and plastic, I now recognise that chains are necessary to hold the buckets in place … and to prevent them from being stolen.

It’s one of the most poignant memorials I’ve seen.

But, do you know what? It’s been nearly a year since the accident, and three months since this photo was taken, and now all the flowers are gone.  And one of the buckets is lying on its side, and has been for weeks.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to jump out of the car and put it back, just so, but it’s a right-arrow lane, and the lights change quickly, and I’m never close enough, and …

And I wonder whether her champions know, or whether they’ve realised that the memorial is going to be difficult to maintain this way, in this place – or perhaps, even worse, that her champions are just no longer able to tend to her memory for whatever reason.

Its poignancy has been heightened. The buckets are now almost pathetic, and with the absence of flowers (real or plastic), might even cause some people to wonder what two empty buckets are doing chained to a traffic light pole.  They have lost the symbolism of their memorial, their reverence for the departed. But I bet the people responsibile for its installation, and the woman’s family and friends, have not forgotten what happened here.

And in the meantime, above the pink buckets, the lights keep changing: red, green, amber, red, green, amber…

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