Thursday, March 24, 2011

Death Ritual: Funeral Celebrating Detroit Unclaimed Dead

Rest in peace.

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


  1. What a beautiful thing you do. May others follow.

  2. This is truly remarkable - what a wonderful gift and touching tribute.

  3. FSP, that's lovely and heartening. There are nursing home residents without family members or friends and I'd like to think someone was sending them with such warm and generosity of spirit.

    Eleanor Feldman Barbera, PhD

  4. Thanks, Dr. El. You might also be interested in this death ritual specific to a hospice nursing home resident I had named Lelia. The hospice chaplain organized her memorial service held in the recreation room at the nursing home:


  5. Frances, this is really an amazing thing to bring our attention to. It could be healing for so many. THanks for sharing may inspire me to investigate if similar things are happening locally and if ritual can be brought to bear.

    Many thanks for your work.

    Jeanne Denney

  6. Jeanne, if you are interested in finding out more locally, you could start by checking with your local morgue about where unclaimed bodies are being sent for disposal. If it's at a funeral home, a death ritual group could partner with them to create a monthly ritual that could be held there. 

Of course, the ritual can be held at a church or anywhere else because the actual bodies will not be there.

    Available from the morgue or place where bodies are sent should be a monthly list of names (if known), dates of birth, times of death, and possibly other information about the unclaimed bodies that will be celebrated at each ceremony. The list is used at the group ritual to represent the bodies. The group can create the ritual, adding music, verse, etc.

    The American flags are at the ritual to recognize those unclaimed bodies of those who were known to be veterans. I heard there is a veterans' group that has death rituals only for unclaimed bodies of veterans. Also, in some cases, the family of an unclaimed body just can't afford or refuses (may be negative feelings about the deceased ) to pay for a funeral, but they might show up if they are aware of the death ritual sponsored by the group


    I hope this information helps. I wish you the best.