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Roadside Memorials: A Reminder of the Last Breath

Updated: Jun 1, 2021

On this Memorial Day when we honor veterans who never returned home, it has me thinking about all of the roadside memorials that I’ve seen as I’ve traveled around the United States.

I have never been more reminded of them as when I recently drove from Sedona, Arizona to Rocky Point, Puerto Penasco, Mexico. On the stretch between Gila Bend and the border, there must have been 50 or more memorials, some of which were epic shrines! The Spanish word for them, by the way, is Descanso, which translates to “rest”.

For most of my life I wondered why people created these. This isn’t where the body rests, after all. But in the last couple of years as I stepped into my death doula work, I’ve since changed how I think of them.

These memorials mark the spot where a loved one took their last breath following an accident or other tragic event. As described in the bible, breath is a powerful symbol of the life-giving presence of God. The breath is peaceful and still and yet a moment later it serves as a reservoir of enormous power.

Our breath is essential for life. We know that the body starts to die within minutes without oxygen. Less known is that our tissues become unhealthy and stressed when there is reduced oxygen getting to our organs. This reduced oxygen and blood flow to an organ eventual leads to dysfunction or disease.

So, you see, breath truly holds the secret to life. When we breathe deeply we are inhaling conscious awareness of all that is around you and within you. We become aware of all that we take in, and all that we are able to receive as our lungs fill. When we exhale, we become aware of all that we can release what no longer serves us.

Now you know. From this point forward, the next time you see a roadside memorial and your mind acknowledges that someone died at this marker, remind yourself to take a deep breath and imagine all your cells lighting up in celebration of their life and yours. What a beautiful way to honor both of your lives.

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