Some eight or nine months after Angie’s murder, I was teaching a writing course in northern Virginia. Sue, who had been in one of my writing courses, stopped me in the hall during a break and asked if she could see me at lunch. This was not uncommon because often students who have been in one of my classes earlier will bring me their work and ask me for a quick edit before they hand it in to their boss.
Sue indicated she had heard of our loss and wanted to express her sympathy. Then she told me she had lost her only son, Brad, in a car accident on August 3, 1996. He was sixteen years old. The several years I had known Sue I always felt there was sadness about her, but I never knew why, I never thought it was my place to ask. Now I knew.
Sue said that she and her husband regularly placed flowers along the road where the accident occurred, but someone had called the police to complain that the flowers were distracting; adding, according to the police, that the person who called said, “It is time for the family to move on.” I could feel the anger start to grow in me.
A very apologetic policeman told her that he had no choice but to ask that Sue and her husband stop putting the flowers along the side of the road. The Virginia Department of Highways removes flowers and memorials if they prove dangerous or if someone complains.
The sad truth is that just when you think you have seen the worst in human nature, when you think people have sunk about as low as they can go, you find there are some people lower than you ever imagined—you hear about someone making this type of complaint to the Virginia Department of Highways.
Almost pleading, Sue said, “If only Brad had had a love child.” Some part of him that we could see and touch would help. During the first year after his death she kept waiting, praying for some young woman to come forward with a child. A love child that would be part of Brad, something, someone she could hold on to—but that never happened.
I could not help but think how lucky we are to have Rebecca; Rebecca helps us move on with our lives—she gives us hope. For Angie’s parents, Rebecca is their reason for living. There are so many things about Rebecca that are her mother.
Rebecca and Angie were inseparable; they look a great deal alike, talk alike and think alike. If there is a God, then Rebecca is truly the gift from that God.
Sue asked me if I would edit a letter they wrote to their local newspaper in Warrenton. The answer was “of course.”
This letter is in remembrance of our son Brad B., who lost his life on Route 211 six years ago. We have continually placed flowers on that spot since the accident, but a few weeks ago the Virginia Department of Transportation asked us to remove a wreath and refrain from putting flowers there in the future. Someone had complained that the wreaths were a distraction and that the practice had gone on long enough.
We find it difficult to believe that the flowers or wreath could distract or offend anyone. Perhaps the person who made the complaint has never lost a child or a loved one. The placing of flowers was our way of saying to our son, “We have not forgotten you and never will.”
Time has helped heal our pain, but we miss Brad, our son. We can see his smile and feel his hugs in our memories. Everyday we have had to deal with the terrible fact that he is gone. We pass by this spot going to and from work and the flowers and wreath helped us feel closer to him.
We have always hoped that when someone sees flowers by the roadside for a remembrance of a loved one, they will take a minute to think about their driving and realize how quickly accidents happen.
Life is so precious and someone you love can be taken in just a few seconds. It is our hope and prayer that others who find solace through placing flowers at the site of their loss will not be asked to stop the practice.
Sue and Jeff F.
The controversy in Virginia over whether the state should pay for and erect roadside memorials to those killed in traffic accident opened a window on another part of the sorry state of affairs in the old Dominion.
The program to erect roadside memorials will cost the state no more than $250,000, according to estimates by Virginia Department of Transportation officials. The Washington Times reported that one transportation board official, Harry T. Lester of Virginia Beach, said that $250.00 a memorial “sounds like a lot of money to me… Why should we be doing this for free?” I sincerely hope Mr. Lester was being quoted incorrectly or out of context.
In February 2003, Virginia’s Commonwealth Transportation Board did vote to erect roadside markers in memory of those who die on the state’s highways. The markers will replace those put along the road by the families and will remain standing for one year.
The press quoted C. Frank Gee, the Transportation Department’s chief engineer of operations, as saying, “We’re not going to be judgmental… We’re trying to send a message about safe driving.” In other words, the state will erect the memorial in memory of the victims as well as those who cause the accidents. At last, some sanity in government! At last, some recognition that those left behind are victims too, victims with rights! (To be continued)