The Creation of Roadside Memorials: Art Therapy in Response to Sudden and Traumatic Loss

Graduation Date

Spring 2009

Document Type

Master's Thesis

Document Form


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy

Degree Granting Institution

Notre Dame de Namur University

Program Name

Art Therapy


Arnell Etherington, PhD, MFT, ATR-BC

First Reader

Laury Rappaport, PhD, ATR-BC

Second Reader

Lisa Manthe, MFT, ATR-BC


This phenomenological qualitative study explored the following questions: How does the creation of the roadside memorial become instrumental in the process of healing? How can visiting the memorial site, and doing this in the public eye, help the bereaved come to terms with the loss? How is the physical and artistic creation of the roadside memorial related to Art Therapy? The study consisted of five participants, both male and female, who either initiated or participated in the creation of a roadside memorial. Using interview, photographs and a written questionnaire, the following narrative themes were explored: 1) reasons for creating the memorial, 2) items placed at the memorial, 3) reasons for visiting the memorial. Common themes for each category were revealed. The findings from this study conclude that the creation of a roadside memorial clearly has more than one function. Roadside memorials help the bereaved deal with their grief on a more manageable level by providing containment and focus for their grief, symbolic representation of the lost relationship, and a way to continue the bonds that have been severed by death.

Only available in print