February 22, 2018
Unclaimed by family, cremated remains of 300 found at shuttered funeral home laid to rest
FLINT TWP, MI – The muted winter sun peeked into the mausoleum as the teens arranged hundreds of black cardboard boxes at the head of the chapel.
“You lift a box and it’s heavy, but then you realize there’s a kid in there and it kind of hits you,” said Sam Lechel, a senior at Flint Powers Catholic High School, volunteering for the service as part of his school capstone project.
A veteran. Week-old twin boys who passed in 1985. An unnamed man clad in sunglasses and identified only by a single film photograph of him driving a car. Dozens of infants.
Stacked on rows of long tables in the chapel, each of the 300 boxes contained the cremated remains of a person whose ashes went unclaimed by family, found piled in a closet at the now-shuttered Swanson Funeral Home. Some had been sitting in the funeral home for over 30 years, said Tim Bazany of Lansing Catholic Cemeteries.
On Friday, Feb. 16, the ashes of the 300 individuals were blessed and at last put to rest at New Calvary Catholic Cemetery in Flint Township.
Hosting a small ceremony complete with “Taps” for the military veteran, Bishop Earl Boyea – head of the Catholic Diocese of Lansing – blessed each of the 300 boxes with holy water.
“I don’t know the stories of all these folks – maybe few of us do,” Boyea said during the small service in the mausoleum, attended by local funeral directors and Powers Catholic volunteers. “And I’m sure there are stories here of great poverty, those who simply couldn’t afford burial. And there may be other stories of no family, who knows. But each one of these people deserves that respect, and we are paying that respect here today.”
Boyea likened the ceremony to the one he officiated six months earlier in Lansing, where the ashes of 300 found stored at the hospital were laid to rest in a crypt at the St. Joseph Cemetery mausoleum.
“This is simply a symbol and sign of our respect for the dead,” Boyea said. “They deserve this.”
For Donald Lada, director of Brown Funeral Home in Grand Blanc and a licensed funeral director since 1962, attending the ceremony meant giving the 300 individuals a proper sendoff.
“We can’t change the past, but I believe everyone’s life deserves a good ending,” Lada said, reading from a handwritten note he keeps in his pocket.
In July 2017, the state ordered Swanson to cease and desist after inspectors allegedly found unrefrigerated human bodies stacked in a garage without air conditioning, maggots on the garage’s floor, and a score of other conditions and violations deemed “deplorable and unsanitary.”
After the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs made efforts to contact the deceaseds’ next of kin over the phone, remains of 300 individuals went unclaimed.
Rick Lamb and his daughter, Codie Lamb-Gilliam, of Swartz Funeral Home in Flint, were among the local funeral directors who stepped in to aid in the Swanson cleanup after the business was shuttered.
The pair said they had never witnessed as many unclaimed remains as those stacked in Swanson.
“We have a locked closet inside the funeral home where we keep our cremated remains,” said Lamb-Gilliam. “You do have families, believe it or not, who don’t come back for their loved ones’ remains. But the amount that they had stacked up there … in the garage, it’s unsettling.”
“It’s very unfortunate, it’s very unfortunate,” Lamb added. “After all the media coverage of this, too, you think people would know if they had a family member at Swanson, that they’d come back for them. It’s out of respect, you need to have some sort of disposition with them.”
But Bazany said that the search for the 300 individuals’ families is not over.
“It’s going to come down to looking through the White Pages, combing Facebook,” he said. “It’s going to take time, but obviously we want to connect people with their loved ones.”
Though the ashes have been interred at New Calvary Catholic Cemetery, Bazany said that family members wishing to reclaim an individual’s remains may call the cemetery’s main phone number: 810-732-2620.
“We’ll set up a day for an appointment and they can meet us and answer a few questions,” he said. “We want to return these remains, if possible.”
SOURCE: Retrieved February 22, 2018 from http://www.mlive.com/news/flint/index.ssf/2018/02/unclaimed_by_family_cremated_r.html
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