I’m not sure if this is an etiquette matter – in fact I’m sure it’s probably not – but more of a ‘Why do people do this?’ question. It’s probably a very sensitive matter for many people, so I’ll apologise in advance if anyone is hurt or upset.
In Australia, we have a lot of cars with ‘My Family’ stickers. I think it’s supposed to be a celebration of your family for all the world to see. I don’t know if they’ve made it to the rest of the world yet but if not, rest assured, they probably will.
While I have some issues with these stickers (is it really safe to ‘advertise’ on the back of your car that you’re a single mother with three young daughters? Do we really need to know that you have 4 kids, 2 dogs, 3 cats and 5 budgerigars?) Probably my biggest problem – no, not even a problem, an issue? A concern? Maybe it just bothers me – is the ‘angel’ stickers indicating that one of the children is deceased. See pictures below.
Now I haven’t, thank the Lord and touch every piece of wood I can, lost a child. I realise how devastating and heart-breaking it must be and that the dead child will forever be a part of your family. But, while I know that it’s not all about me, it’s extremely uncomfortable to see these stickers. Yes, another’s bereavement is uncomfortable and most of us would prefer not to be confronted with another person’s grief, but I wonder about the people who put them on their cars. Why do people need to advertise their grief and bereavement? Surely it’s an intensely personal matter. Is it an affirmation of the deceased child’s place in the family? Or “Look at me and feel sorry for me, I have a dead child”? I can’t get my head around it and would value other e-hellions’ thoughts. 0518-14
We have “family stickers” here in the US, too, although I have never seen an angel one on a car before. What I have seen are the large, custom-made sticker memorials to a deceased person that takes up the entire back window of a vehicle. The first time I saw them was when race car driver Dale Earnhardt died in a crash and fans placed large stickers memorializing him on the back windows of their pick-up trucks.
This article in the New York Times discusses the recent phenomenon of grieving friends and family creating custom sticker memorials and placing them on vehicles. The premise is that society has become more mobile and transient and therefore expressions of grief have also become mobile …as in taking the cemetery to the highways. It is also seen as a way consumers have become empowered to express their memorials in ways typically reserved for the funeral industry to do.
Would I do it? No. I personally think it trivializes a life and death. A vinyl sticker on the back of a windshield is quite impermanent (compared to a granite tombstone). If letting others know the status of your grieving is important (such as the Victorians did by wearing black clothing or black arm bands), I can see how it serves a purpose but I’m not particularly thrilled at the lack of dignity a vinyl sticker conveys. Wearing a black arm band at least puts the grief in personal context with people one interacted with on a daily basis whereas a vehicle memorial broadcasts it to a huge audience who has no investment in the mourner or the deceased. Why would it be important that every driver on the freeway knows that the person in *that* vehicle has recently experienced the death of a loved one?
And there is the issue of public grief lasting only a limited period of time. You did not wear black forever and there was a specific time frame one wore a black arm band. Traditionally a year, at most, was the longest one publicly grieved yet if there is a vinyl sticker on the back window, when is the appropriate time to remove it?