CHARLES GRAHAM - The dilemma over roadside memorials

COUNCILS, the police and even members of the public have few more sensitive issues to wrestle with sometimes than roadside memorials.

A relatively recent phenomenon in this country (they really only caught on circa 1997 after Princess Diana’s death), they are for some potent and justifiable evocations of emotion but for others an unnecessary nuisance.

A documentary screened on television last year dealt, I thought, very sensitively with the subject.

The greater part of the programme was given over to those who set up the shrines, for instance to a loved one killed in a road accident.

It spoke to several grieving families to explore their reasoning for doing it and also experts for a more remote view.

The secularisation of society, restrictions on how graves can be decorated and the sheer momentum of its becoming common practice were all cited as reasons for their proliferation.

Personally I don’t think I would do that sort of thing. For me the place where someone died isn’t anywhere special.

Their home and their final resting place are. When my dad died in hospital I didn’t feel an urge to go and lay flowers on the ward.

Of course folk generally only set up shrines after a sudden death and who am I to dictate how other people should react to loss?

But the other part of that documentary dealt with the troubling issue of shrines which for some outstay their welcome.

A close relative of mine, who does not live in the borough, opens her front door every day to be confronted by an array of wreaths, bouquets, toys, trinkets and messages on a signpost across the road. This is a shrine to a motorcyclist who died more than three years ago.

She and several neighbours, equally upset at their seemingly permanent funereal outlook, had the courage to write to the local newspaper to make as tactful as possible a complaint about it, all to little effect.

But it is an issue which is repeated across the country and which has led, in some parts including round here, to a somewhat loosely enforced agreement that 30 days is a suitable passage of time by which the floral tributes should be discreetly removed either by family or the authorities.

I say loosely because you don’t have to look very far to see shrines in Wigan which have been there for a number of months if not years already, the blooms all shrivelled and blasted to unsightliness by the weather.

From the article which appeared in our paper the other day it looks like the council and police are both leaving it to each other’s personnel to do the potentially upsetting deed of clearing up.

I can hear many shouting “how can you put a timescale on grieving?” and I agree that is a question with a different answer for each one of us.

But while I would not be so tactless and impertinent to suggest that folk should “move on” I would side with those who think that these public displays of bereavement should have a limited time span.