Do you every wonder who mourns for those who die without any family or friends?
When we die, most of us will have loved ones who will celebrate our lives and mourn our deaths. There are so many, however, who have no next of kin or friends who will be there to say goodbye.
Michael Pojman is one person who decided to step up to say goodbye. Pojman, the assistant headmaster at The Roxbury Latin School for boys in Boston, began a program in collaboration with a local funeral home, Lawler and Crosby, to honor those who die alone.
Pojman invites students to volunteer their time to not only attend, but also participate in funerals for absolute strangers.
When NPR reporter Arun Rath followed Pojmon and a group of six students from Roxbury Latin, he found that the students were solemn in their reflection and participation with the services.
Though officially a field trip, the experience is more than just your average time away from class. The experience leaves these young men with a new perspective “on what’s really important in life.”
Pojman explained that the teens:
“reflect on the fact that there are people, like this gentleman, who probably knew hundreds or thousands of people through his life, and at the end of it there’s nobody there — I think that gets to all of them…Some have said, ‘I just gotta make sure that never happens to me.’ “
The students reportedly
“dressed in jackets and ties, carry the plain wooden coffin, and take part in a short memorial.”
During the memorial, the young men read aloud the following prayer:
“Dear Lord, thank you for opening our hearts and minds to this corporal work of mercy. We are here to bear witness to the life and passing of Nicholas Miller.
“He died alone with no family to comfort him.
“But today we are his family, we are here as his sons
“We are honored to stand together before him now, to commemorate his life, and to remember him in death, as we commend his soul to his eternal rest.”
Rath wrote that each of the teens take the opportunity to recite “a poem, verse of scripture, or passage about death.” The verse that touched him the most was read by 18-year-old Emmett Dalton. Dalton recited a poem that ends with:
“death can take away what we have, but it cannot rob us of who we are.”
The funeral director, Robert Lawler, appreciates these young men volunteering their time to say goodbye to these strangers.
Lawler is one of the few funeral homes who performs these services for those who die alone. Lawler has been holding funerals for those who have no family for 42 years, after promising his father he would continue this legacy of providing services for those who cannot afford one and for those without family. He stated:
“It’s the right thing to do…You know, you can’t leave these poor people lying there forever.”
Lawler referred to the fact that the deceased often lie for months as authorities exhaust their search or wait for the next of kin to come forward.
Though the man they laid to rest is a person they never met, at least one of the teens felt a connection to him. After all, he was a human being. He lived and died. He may have had friends and family throughout his life, but in the end, he was alone.
This is a fate many of us may end up with. And if it does, hopefully there will be caring individuals, like these amazing volunteers, to celebrate our lives and mourn our death.
h/t Arun Rath at NPR.
Featured image is a screenshot from The Roxbury Latin School.