Giving the Living a Choice

photo-1455723576895-6ab1d5abbcb9 by Cheryl Winn-Boujnida Unsplash
I am one case shy of fifty.

That’s forty-nine successful next of kin searches in fourteen months. So it was with some confidence I reached out to a medical examiner whose been in the news to offer help locating next of kin for 100 cases he inherited when two funeral homes closed.

“Thanks for the offer…” he responded. “I have decided not to try and track down relatives as I know from past experience that the cremains were never picked up because there are no next of kin, or the family wants nothing to do with the person.”

I was disappointed. Not that he didn’t want my help. That it seemed like he didn’t think it was worth the effort. It’s his domain. He gets to make the decision. He gets to believe that decedents whose remains are unclaimed are unwanted. That there is nobody in the world that would want to know.

Out of 49 cases, one person was flat-out unhappy about being found. Still, she provided information to locate another relative. There were another two or three where the people were relieved to hear the person had died because of the kind of life they had lived. Not happy they were dead; happy they weren’t still struggling, or still harming others. There was closure that may not otherwise occur when people are untethered from their past.

My experience is that people are surprised. They are moved that someone took the time to find them, five, ten, twenty years later. They feel cared about when someone cared enough to connect them to their kin.

“The last time we spoke with him we tried to get him to come back to Indiana.”

“I’ve always wondered what happened to him. I haven’t seen him since I was four.”

“We’re sorry she was alone at the end.”

“She was kidnapped before I was born.”

“I never thought I would know what happened to him. I am glad he’s resting in peace.”

The nay-saying medical examiner’s point of view is that the living don’t want anything to do with the unclaimed dead. Mine is that they ought to have the choice.

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