Monday, January 7, 2013

Dead Bodies No One Claims: Death Ritual, Disposal (Video 4:16)

People die every day leaving bodies that no one claims. Perhaps no loved ones can be found. Maybe found loved ones will not or cannot pay for body disposal services. Some bodies are donated to science, but many are not. Who honors unclaimed bodies with a death ritual? Who is responsible for disposal of their remains?

Sometimes concerned strangers celebrate unclaimed deceased members of our society with a final farewell ceremony. A few years ago, I attended a death ritual service where community people simply joined with a local funeral home where the morgue sent unclaimed bodies for cremation and disposal. Together they created a monthly public ritual honoring the unclaimed deceased.

The day I participated, we paid our respects to 28 deceased people whose actual bodies were not present. Our purpose was to provide a final send-off to celebrate their lives. For various reasons such as abandonment at the morgue and hospitals, or loved ones not providing a funeral, these spirits of the old and young found their way to this ritual that brought formal closure to the lives of those with no other means of having this observance.

The service included heartfelt words, music, printed programs, American flags, candles and beautiful roses representing each deceased honoree. I sensed something powerful in the room when each departed person’s earthly existence was affirmed with an orally read acknowledgement stating name (if known), date of birth and death. Our sincere and enthusiastic response of “May he/she rest in peace” felt empowering, knowing our presence served as testimony to their lives and our hopes for their future peace. We sang in celebration of this momentous occasion. Each honoree had been claimed.

There is still the question of who pays financially for cremation and disposal of unclaimed bodies. That answer is explained in this special news report. This video describes how much taxpayers in one state and local county spent on cremating bodies that went unclaimed in the morgue and medical examiner's office.

Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at online and offline booksellers.

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