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A celebration of life

We devote our cover story to memorials on wheels. I’m sure you have seen them on cars around town. Whether small and discreet, or large and elaborate, memorial vinyl decals are ubiquitous. 

Some follow a template and include the name of the deceased and a symbol, followed by the years of birth and death. Others are custom creations depicting elements evocative of the diseased or the taste of the bereaved. 

I distinctly remember my first encounter with one of these memorials. Years ago, as I approached a busy intersection in downtown Phoenix, I noticed a pickup truck covered in decals memorializing a young woman. I was so intrigued, that I even changed lanes to be behind it and admire it a bit longer. Figuring prominently on the center of the rear window was what seemed like an airbrushed glamour shot of the diseased. An ornate, oval-shaped vinyl decal framed the portrait. “In loving memory of my wife,” read the insignia under it. 

I wanted to know more about this woman, and somehow communicate to the vehicle’s driver (assuming that was his wife) that I acknowledged his pain; but how, and, more importantly, why? I’d never felt compelled to share my reaction to a car’s bumper stickers with the car’s driver (vote for so and so, support this cause, my kid is a whiz). Free speech, right?

But this was different. We are taught not to ignore others’ pain and suffering and, at the time – not having experienced the loss of a loved one – I thought of the decals as public displays of grief. What was I supposed to do with this stranger’s bereavement? Bow my head, wave, seek the driver’s gaze and try to telepathically express solidarity, or just carry on? 

With time I’ve come to appreciate these decals as badges of honor. They are not just about sharing one’s grief, but rather about creating meaning and publicly acknowledging the privilege of having partaken in a life worth remembering. 

¡Que vivan los muertos! 

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This Article appears on the November 2012 issue of LPM under From the Editor

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