Over 300 people in King County were laid to rest, unforgotten.
Wednesday, July 10 at Mount Olivet cemetery, the King County Medical Examiner’s Office (KCMEO) honored people who died from 2016 to 2018 who were indigent: people whose families did not claim their remains or could not provide a proper burial. Representatives of several denominations offered burial rites.
“For reasons unknown, these individuals have died without family to bury them,” said James Sosik, lead of the KCMEO indigent remains program, at the ceremony. “Yet they will not pass from life forgotten, without dignity.”
The headstone reads: “GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN THESE PEOPLE OF KING COUNTY JULY 2019.”
Several representatives of local organizations attended, as well as community members and representative of Mary’s Place and Women in Black, that honors the lives of homeless individuals who die in King County. Some attendees knew those who passed, including one woman who held photos that she brought with her of her loved one.
The Indigent Remains Program in King County started in 1993, when the state transferred responsibility for final disposition of unclaimed remains to counties. The Medical Examiner’s office took over the program, and Mount Olivet donated the land for the burials about 20 years ago.
The KCMEO conducts a search for family members and a determination is made whether the person has the personal money to help pay for the funeral, which takes about 21 days.
Records are kept for each individual remains so next-of-kin can retrieve it at a later point.
Mount Olivet Manager Jim Colt said years ago they had no place to keep folks’ remains. He said the ceremony is a way of respecting all people, and that whether you have money or not you should still receive a burial.
“They’re not just indigent, homeless, they’re unclaimed remains for whatever the reason,” he said.
Every year there’s more people in attendance, Colt said. There’s TV news crews at the event whereas in the beginning it wasn’t even announced.
Chaplain for Seattle Children’s Hospital Jeff Barker was one of the clergy representatives in attendance. It was tough to hear a few babies names, he said. He has spoken at the ceremony for several years.
“But it’s always tough no matter what age,” he said.
One unexpected tradition of this event is also the weather, it was rainy, sometimes even windy, at previous ceremonies. On Thursday, it was a quiet drizzle as folks stood and honored the 302 names.
Typically the ceremony is every two years. Colt said it feels like it’s been happening more frequently as more indigent individuals pass each year. Possibly due to there being a lot more people living in Seattle and King County.
Before the final playing of the bagpipes to conclude the service, Dick Foley and Terry Lauber, of The Brothers Four, performed “Wayfaring Stranger”:
“I am a poor wayfaring stranger,
While journeying thru this world of woe,
Yet, there’s no sickness, toil nor danger,
In that bright land to which I go.”
Foley said he’s been performing since 2003 and knew nurse Mary Larson, who commissioned the 2003 bench on the burial plot.
“It’s such a nice thing King County does, I’m so glad they do it,” Foley said.