Thursday, March 24, 2011
Death Ritual: Funeral Celebrating Detroit Unclaimed Dead
On this third Wednesday of the month, I join with eight others at a Detroit funeral home. We are here to pay our respects to 28 deceased people who are both strangers and new friends to us. Our purpose is to provide a final send-off to celebrate their lives. For various reasons such as abandonment at the Wayne County morgue and hospitals or families not providing a funeral, these spirits of adults, children, and “little angels who died without taking a breath” have found their way to Perry Funeral Home in Detroit, Michigan.
This monthly ritual started about three years ago by a man who says he was driving in his car while listening to the radio one day and heard about unclaimed bodies stacking up in cold storage behind the morgue. Concerned about this increasing problem, he contacted the coroner who directed him to Perry Funeral Home where bodies were being sent for burial. Eventually, Perry Funeral Home made arrangements for members of St. Christopher and St. Paul Episcopal Church to become involved. They started the Celebration of Friends memorial services to bring formal closure to the lives of those with no other means of having this observance. Everyone is welcome to attend the rituals.
Various church members and others assist with activities during the service supporting funeral home services. Preparations include printed programs, American flags, candles, and beautiful white roses representing each deceased honoree. Roses are distributed to participants at the end of the service. Attendees are encouraged to give them to others to pray in honor of the deceased.
I sense something powerful in the room when each departed person’s earthly existence is acknowledged with an oral reading stating name (if known), date of birth, and death. Our sincere and enthusiastic response of “May he/she rest in peace” feels empowering, knowing our presence serves as testimony to their lives and our hopes for their future peace. We settle into satisfied and sing in celebration of this momentous occasion. Each one of our new friends has been claimed.
Frances Shani Parker, Author