What happens when someone dies and relatives are unable or unwilling to bury the body? Every year, the cremated remains of approximately 1600 people are buried by the County of Los Angeles in a single common grave, their lives marked only by the year of death. Who are these people, and how did they end up there? What are their stories? What social marks did they leave on the world? And what does all this mean to the families, neighbors, and communities left behind? With Stefan Timmermans, I am engaged in an ethnographic study to understand how people may find themselves so isolated at the end of life that no one knows (or cares) what happened to them. For the families who tried in vain to give a final resting place to their loved ones, we aim to uncover the obstacles that stand in the way. In our research, we also discover new communities that form around a desire to remember the unclaimed. Together these stories show the cultural work the unclaimed and unmourned do for society.
If you know someone who went unclaimed in Southern California, feel free to reach out. You can help us humanize the lives of the unclaimed.