Service for the Unclaimed Dead of Los Angeles County
1467 is the number of people who were laid to rest in the county cemetery on December 5, 2018 – The unclaimed remains of 1467 people who had died in Los Angeles County in 2015.
How can it be that so many bodies go unclaimed in Los Angeles County? There are many reasons – Some people die alone in nursing homes and hospitals. Some were homeless and died on the street. Others were babies who died at birth. Some people die and their families can’t afford to “claim” them.
Once a year, the LA County Board of Supervisors sponsors a multi-faith burial service and we lay them to rest – offering our songs, prayers and blessings. As author Heather King noted, the word “claim” comes from the Latin “clamare” (to call out). Thus did Lazarus, covered with sores, cry out at the gate of the rich man. Claim me. Love me. Look me — just for a moment — in the face.
So last week, at the cold, windswept cemetery, we looked them in the face – babies, teenagers, parents – homeless people – immigrants and native born – and we claimed them. We claimed their suffering, their joy, their life among us.
May they rest in peace.
– Rev. Elizabeth Gibbs Zehnder serves as Presbyterian staff chaplain at LAC+USC Medical Center. The Presbyterian Chaplaincy is made possible through the Consortium funded by the Synod of Southern California and Hawaii, the Presbyteries of the Los Ranchos, Pacific, San Fernando and San Gabriel. To find out more about this ministry and how you can be involved, please contact her at Elizabeth.GibbsZehnder@gmail.com.