Ward of the state

One day I got a call to pick up a gentleman at the hospital, I thought nothing of, it other than routine. I asked the nurse the pertinent questions, name, room number, family contact. This is when she informed me that there was no family left and that the man’s affairs were being handled by the state. She also told me that she called my mortuary due to a note in his file that his funeral was pre-planned with us. I was given the number of the person in charge of his matters and I informed her I would call her back regarding the man. After I hung up I looked for the file with the name I was given and found that he did in fact plan a funeral with us, and a grand one! High end casket, top of line vault and a flower allowance to make even a bride envious and then he was to be buried at a local church. Everything seemed to be in order aside from the fact that none of it was paid for, it was only his wishes on paper, nothing more. Normally when there isn’t any family to pay for services, the state handles the funeral arrangement and typically they choose the funeral home. Armed with this information I called the woman handling his affairs and again started asking questions, were there no children? siblings? cousins? anybody? Then she told me the sad tale of this man.

He had never married and never had any children, but he did have two siblings who had taken care of him for a while. The brother sadly passed away which left only his sister to care for him. Eventually the man ended up in a facility that could see to his needs full time as his health declined. His sister came now and again to visit with him and brought clothing, foods and such. She would take him on outings for lunch or to the Zoo and even to the funeral home to make his final arrangements. Then, she stopped coming. After some time, the facility wondered what happened to her and tried to get in contact with her, the phone number they had was disconnected and it seemed that she had just disappeared. This is when the state got involved and he was assigned a social worker to handle his care and affairs. He lived for several more years, during that time he developed dementia and was forgetting more and more of his life. I was told he used to talk about his siblings fondly and always asked about his lost sister. The social worker, who was originally assigned to care for him, moved on or got a promotion or something and so it was reassigned to the woman I was speaking with now. She said that when she took over his case (about a year prior), he remembered very little and was no help in finding any relatives that may still be living. She did another search for the missing sister and found that she had passed away some years ago. She also had never married or had any children and had lived alone. She had left pre-planned funeral of her own which was an immediate burial (where the funeral home is to bury without any family or friends present). She was now buried in the same church cemetery as her brother was to be buried, explaining her disappearance.

The social worker and I talked about the grand funeral plans he had made, and I informed her how it was only his wishes and wasn’t funded. Then she had news that blew me away. The man had set aside the money to pay for his funeral and then some! The state was in charge of his finances and would be paying for whatever he wanted in his funeral plan, with plenty of money left over. I hung up the phone and called the nurse back to let her know that I would in fact be handling this man’s funeral and that I would come to receive him shortly.

I remember making the arrangements. All the paperwork was signed through email and fax with the social worker (we never met in person). I called the church and asked for someone to officiate his service, no one remembered who he was, it had been so long since he had come to church, but they agreed to provide us with an officiant. I ordered the casket painted light blue, and the vault I had painted silver to match the hardware of the casket. The allowance given for the flowers was more than enough for a spectacular display of color and texture. I sent a check to the cemetery for opening and closing (fees to dig the grave). I even printed an obituary with the little information I had. After all was said and done, it was to be a lovely funeral! I had him embalmed and dressed him in the dark brown suit he picked from our clothing line, I gave him clean brown socks and a pressed white shirt. Once I had him in the casket I fussed over straightening his tie and pulling any fold out of shirt and jacket. The brown suit was a nice contrast to the stark white interior.

Then it was time for the funeral. I remember getting there early to set everything up and deep down I hoped that someone who knew him would see his obituary and be there to fill a chair. It was a warm spring day, the grass was green. The small white country church stood on a hill overlooking the cemetery. Blue skies with wispy white clouds and the occasional lazy bird floating above was the background to our green funeral tent. The light blue casket stood on top of the silver vault which accented the handles brilliantly. The flower arrangement which I had made in bright oranges and deep reds gave the lazy spring setting a burst of excitement.

The clergy walked down from the church and we spoke of things he would say and then a car pulled up and a woman got out. Hoping beyond hope that this person would be a friend of the deceased and would have something new to add to our meager eulogy. I introduced myself as she walked up only to discover that this woman was none other than the social worker with whom I had been working with! I was touched and surprised, she had taken her lunch break to attend the funeral of a man who she had only known through his fragmented recollections. We hugged and decided to wait a little just in case someone, anyone showed up. Alas, it was only me, the social worker, the clergy and the gravediggers, standing off in the background, who attended the funeral. It was somber as none of us knew him, but we did our best to give him what he wanted as his final farewell.

About a month later I received another call from the social worker, she said that the extra money he had set aside for his funeral needed to be spent, their office was going to be audited and they couldn’t have the money, that was set aside specifically for his funeral expenses, sitting idle in their account. So, we talked about some different options. Charity, donating it to the state or opening a fund for those who needed money for a funeral. All of these options, it seemed, did not fall under the guidelines of how the money could be spent. It had to go for his funeral expenses. Since he was buried at the church, I contacted the clergy there and asked if the church or cemetery could use a bench or tree or anything. He said the road was in serious disrepair and that they had been talking about putting a bench near the playground on the other side of the cemetery for weary parents to watch their children exhaust themselves. We also noticed that two of his family members headstones were crumbling and in need of replacement. After some talking and planning it was determined that all of this fell within the strange guidelines. All in all, the man paid for two new headstones, two granite benches with his name inscribed on each and what was left went towards a new road through the cemetery. This was indeed a tribute to the man, and one of the most expensive funerals I had ever directed!old-church-591690_1920Picture provided by pixabay


  1. I was so engrossed by this story and I’ve always been fascinated by funerals for people that are, basically, alone. Thank you for taking such good care of him and sending him off with such dignity and love.

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