Unclaimed cremated remains pile up in North American funeral homes
ST. JOHN’S, N.L. – Laying to rest a loved one who has passed on may seem like the only decent thing to do. But, a Newfoundland funeral director says not everyone follows through in paying their final respects.
“It’s a secret we keep. We don’t like to talk about it and I think we should begin to,” Geoff Carnell, owner of Carnell’s Funeral Home, told Global News.
He’s talking about the more than 50 urns of cremated remains left behind at his St. John’s funeral home, since the first urn went unclaimed in 1988.
Most of them have been in storage for years, after no one came to claim the ashes of the deceased.
“It’s inconceivable,” he said. “People could never imagine that others could just walk away from a loved one.”
Cremation is less expensive than traditional burials and it’s become an increasingly popular way to handle remains.
“Many families might have the right intentions,” said Carnell, whose family has been in the funeral business since 1804. “[But] sometimes they may leave the urn for a summer burial because [of] bad weather conditions.”
“They have good intentions, but don’t follow through,” he said.
That leads to a build-up of unclaimed ashes, not just at Carnell’s funeral home but at funeral homes everywhere.
He explained there are 23,000 funeral homes in North America and they “all have unclaimed cremated remains.”
There are an estimated two million unclaimed urns at funeral homes across North America, according to the Cremation Association of North America (CANA).
CANA executive director Barbara Kemmis said it can be tied back to how people grieve a loss.
She said people may be confused and overwhelmed when going through the grieving process.
“Sometimes after a few years, when the grief has lessened… you think ‘Well, I still don’t know what to do,” she said.
Funeral homes are often hesitant to bury or scatter the remains, in case family members return later to claim them.
But, Kemmis said there are some funeral homes that do take matters into their own hands and keep a record of who was scattered and the efforts made to reach family members beforehand.
Other options are for the funeral homes to charge storage fees or mail the urn to the last known address.
That’s something Carnell would rather not do, suggesting it would undermine the dignity he works hard to preserve.
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