Memorial Markers Help Survivors Heal

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I would like to respond to a July 21 Mail Call letter by Teddy Cohen of Pine.

I read Mrs. Cohen's comments in the July 21 Mail Call and would like to respond to her self-admitted "rant" of what she calls "the hideous grave markers" along SR 87 between Payson and Pine and other highways in Arizona.

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John Whetten

I, too, once thought that those little crosses and markers along our highways were unsightly and unnecessary and shouldn't be allowed. I just didn't understand. But I changed my mind when I began to learn more about the victims and how those little markers helped their survivors heal.

As a public safety officer in Arizona for nearly 31 years, I have investigated, or been present at, the scene of hundreds of fatalities. I've had numerous people die in my arms as they were asking for assurance that they would be okay. This comes with the territory with any job in public safety. Over the years, you force yourself to become somewhat calloused of the tragedies so you can cope with tomorrow and deal with the next one that will inevitably come, and it always does.

Many times I am left to deal with the families and things begin to become personal because you get to know the victim during and after their passing. The families almost always want to know every detail of their loved one's last few moments on earth. They want to know the exact spot of their passing. That spot then begins to become sacred to them. You begin to feel the family's pain and anguish almost believing you are their last link to their loved one, for I had the opportunity to say goodbye to their loved one; an opportunity they did not have but would give anything to have been able to do. They want to know that their loved one did not suffer. They want to know they are at peace.

I thought I knew how they felt. I thought I had compassion for their losses. But I got to go home every night to my family where everything was fine and continue on with life. I can't help but think about the victims of these accidents every time that I travel the highway and see their memorial markers. I remember what went terribly wrong for them on the day their life ended and how things changed for their families. What could possibly have been different that would have changed the outcome? The "what if's" never seem to end.

But the real test is how you deal with this reality when you become a survivor of one of these tragedies. Something that I finally experienced last October with the passing of my son from a motorcycle accident on a lonely highway in Mexico.

As a police officer, I've made those traumatic late night notifications many times. I've even made those horrible phone calls before. Once again, it comes with the territory of being in public safety.

But until you've received one, you have no idea of the intense pain. I found out like many other survivors that those "hideous" little markers have an immense capacity for healing and helping to cope with the reality of one's loss.

My family and I not only erected a memorial marker at the site of my son's death, but we have visited it numerous times in the past 9 months since he died, and it is 300 miles away. His younger brother has visited it two additional times and can't wait until the next trip. It is even our plan to spend the day at that site every year on the anniversary day of his passing. We plan on visiting this site on the 25th anniversary of his death to open a time capsule placed within the marker by his family.

It's not the little marker that means so much, but the human being's life that it represents -- the life that is represented by that little dash between the date of birth and the date of passing on that "hideous" little sign.

I did not know Kayla Floyd, Carol Lee, Rick McDonald, Ronald Bozzi or Bobby West, all victims of traffic accidents along SR 87 and recipients of memorial markers along the highway. I was involved with each of their accidents, but I did not know them. But I do know the pain and grief their families felt when they received "the call" and the relief and healing they get from honoring their loved one by erecting their memorial marker at their sacred spot.

No, I did not know them. And I do not speak for them, but I feel for them every time I see their "hideous" little sign along the highway.

I believe Mrs. Cohen just doesn't understand, and hopefully she never will.

I wish I didn't.

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