Home Grief Ministry Spicer-Mullikin owner finds home for abandoned cremains, hosts service at All Saints...

Spicer-Mullikin owner finds home for abandoned cremains, hosts service at All Saints Cemetery in Wilmington

Matthew Smith of Spicer Mullikin assists as Bishop Koenig administers holy water to the cremains and Msgr. Hurley looks on. Dialog photo/Joseph P. Owens

For most people, saying goodbye to a loved one is a difficult and important process.

Sometimes a family member or closest person in your life dies after having made arrangements for their own funerals. Services, burial, cremation can all be part of the planning. Large families sometimes plan full-blown sendoffs, except in a time of pandemic when so many were restricted by public-health regulations.

On rare occasions, funeral homes are left to make decisions typically reserved for family. Sometimes, remains of people are just left unclaimed.

“It’s always been a problem,” said Matthew Smith, owner of Spicer-Mullikin Funeral Homes and Crematory.

Remains are hardly abandoned every day, but it happens more than you might think, Smith said. Among the thousands of cremations that take place every year, numerous cremains remain unclaimed in safe storage at funeral homes and crematoriums around the United States, according to Smith.

“Every generation of funeral home has had unclaimed cremated remains,” said Smith, whose business has been family-owned since 1906.

Smith decided to do something for the several dozen cremated remains his business has in its possession. He approached Msgr. Steven Hurley, vicar general of the Diocese of Wilmington. Msgr. Hurley and Scott Hudson, executive director of Catholic Cemeteries, worked with Smith as he developed a solution.

Smith hoped to provide some honor and dignity by establishing a mausoleum at All Saints Cemetery on Kirkwood Highway in Wilmington to serve as the final resting place for abandoned remains. He donated a mausoleum for all the unclaimed cremated remains that Spicer-Mullikin has in its possession.

The mausoleum for unclaimed remains was dedicated by Bishop Koenig May 12 during a ceremony at All Saints.

“We are mindful of the call from Jesus for corporal acts of mercy,” said Bishop Koenig, who was joined by Msgr. Hurley at the service. “Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, but finally bury the dead, helping them to their final resting place.”

Among the remains of 59 people were veterans of the armed forces, Smith said. Several local military members were present for the service, including U.S. Army (ret.) Sgt. Major David Carden of Newark, a bugler who played “Taps.”

Smith said his is not the only funeral home that has come up with a solution such as this but having a service and educating the public about the problem are important elements of the process to him.

“I’ve seen beautiful stories from other states on other funeral homes doing this,” he said. “I hope this is a service that all funeral homes will look to take to have a final resting place for unclaimed cremains.”

In addition, the mausoleum provides some degree of access should someone step forward to accept cremains in the future, Smith said.

“There may be many reasons why someone hasn’t picked up a loved one’s cremated remains,” he said. “It’s hard to imagine why someone wouldn’t, but there are so many reasons out there.”

An estimated 1 percent of cremation cases goes unclaimed nationwide, according to an industry analysis. More than 15,000 set of remains were left behind in 2018.

The service included a proclamation presented by Miguel Hurtado, community relations manager for Delaware Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long.

“Every person, regardless of their background, deserves the dignity of a final resting place,” read the proclamation signed by Hall-Long and Gov. John Carney. “The men, women and children being put to rest today came from different walks of life, including several military veterans, but all of them share a common humanity.”

Smith said the mausoleum will be used for any future unclaimed remains.

“We’ll have continued access,” he said.

“These individuals deserve a resting place, and this is beautiful way to honor their lives. It is very personal for me to do this, to provide a final, peaceful resting place.”