LYNCHBURG, Va. (WDBJ7) Off a major highway, at an intersection under construction, lives a gas station sign. Behind that sign is a story.
On Christmas the sign tells Michelle Dougan’s story. In January of 2007, Dougan lost her son Beau to suicide. This Christmas day would mark his 27th birthday.
“A piece of him will always be with me and I just want him to know that not a day goes by that I don't think about him,” said Dougan. “That he doesn't impact my life in some way or another.”
Nine years ago when Dougan was still grieving, she happened upon the marquee at Richland Hills Convenience store.
“We keep a book with what date they want. And then we write what they want said and put it up the next day,” said Tammy Leonard, Deli Manager at the story.
It’s that easy. They’ve been doing it for the past 24 years. Posting simple messages for the world, or at least Lynchburg, to see.
Messages like: "Happy Anniversary my sweet princess I love you", “Happy Graduation”, “I love you mom”.
“Well they like to see their names up there and it makes their friends and family feel good,” said Leonard.
Laura Cass is a cashier at the store and will come in on her day off to put the sign up. She looks at it as a responsibility to the community.
“They take pictures and say, ‘hey! This was up right there on Timberlake Road!’” said Cass.
But no matter what, Cass and Leonard know to save the sign for Dougan on Christmas.
It’s a tradition for her to come out every year and take a picture of the sign. The words vary through the years, but always the same meaning: “Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday Beau”.
“I love you,” she said as she snapped year number nine.
Beau's family and friends drive by to see his name up there, but even knowing strangers will read his name gives Dougan comfort.
“They can still drive by and have a smile on their face and think, well what a special kid to have that on the sign every year,” said Dougan. “That's kind of cool, huh?”
Reminding her and the people she meets that amidst the craziness of traffic, construction, life… there is always a little bit more to the story.
“I love you buddy. You’ll never be forgotten. You’ll always be in my heart. Always,” said Dougan. “That's what he would say: Rock on mom.”