Obscured by coverage of various fiscal cliff hangovers — and against all expectations — late in 2012 Congress rediscovered its collaborative mojo, passing the “Missing in America” bill – signed into law on Jan 10, 2013 by President Obama. Part of the Dignified Burial and Other Veterans’ Benefits Improvements Act, it means that cremated remains of American vets without families, many of which had been crammed in crematory storerooms for months or years, will now be formally interred by the military, the tab borne by the federal government.
It’s only right to right such a wrong. Imagine, the cremains of our military, lost and forgotten, left to – left to be left there. Really, it’s only right.
Trouble is, there are thousands upon thousands of other wrongs still needing righting. Veterans’ ashes are not alone in solitary confinement; the powdered remains of non-uniformed human – and animal – loved ones are routinely abandoned across the nation. And although local statues govern their lawful disposition, the rules are unenforced, the cartons acquiring layer upon layer of unceremonious grit. While some local laws say funeral homes may dispose of unclaimed ashes after four months, in others places, two years may be required. But many funeral homes nevertheless stash leave-behind beloveds for years.
On the other hand, other events sometimes overtake the forgotten departed:
In 2010, Los Angeles County buried 1,689 left-behind crematees in a mass grave. Instead of grieving family members, the site was encircled by one dozen solemn county employees, coroner’s investigators and hospital chaplains. http://www.dailynews.com/news/ci_16821364
Or take the burial rites orchestrated by a Catholic diocese at St. Joseph Cemetery in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, for 33 sets of ‘orphan’ leave-behinds. This ceremony can actually be viewed in YouTube, complete with bagpipe accompaniment. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTUqELvM2gA (Who knows? Maybe fancier commemoration than they might otherwise have received.)
More typical were the 26 souls languishing on the shelves of Detroit’s erstwhile Paradise Funeral Home, discovered in October by the building’s new owner, Sean Murray — who vowed to do his utmost to return them to the next of kin. “We’re not going to chuck (them) in a dumpster. What’d you do?” said Murray. http://www.myfoxdetroit.com/
Let’s hope he’s not alone in his dumpster-aversion. These stories of untaken cartons aren’t statistical blips. An estimated one million cremations are performed each year in the US, and the percentage of unclaimed outcomes is one percent. In round numbers, That’s some 10,000 dearly departed left in a dusty, boxed limbo. And it will probably take even more than an act of Congress to fix that one!
Next time: Off the Shelf: Due diligence options for deathcare folk.