Here’s how this week’s arts and culture column begins:

A few years ago, starting to contemplate my death and burial, I happened upon a cemetery in a small Central Coast town where I have friends. I called one day to inquire about the cost of a plot and the guy who answered could not get his mind around the fact that I didn’t live in the town, nor had I grown up in the town, nor did I have any particular ties with the town other than having visited it over the years. Finally he could no longer hold himself in. “Ain’tcha got no FAMILY?” he blurted.

Well, like many of us, yes and no. Let’s just say I read “The Unclaimed: Abandonment and Hope in the City of Angels” (Crown, $30), by Pamela Prickett and Stefan Timmermans, with special attention.


Also, here’s this week’s video: part of a new series on some of my favorite, often little-known, memoirs.


  1. Anonymous says: Reply

    Beautifully written.

  2. HEATHER KING says: Reply

    Coda: I heard from a reader who points out that in Amsterdam, in 2002, a poet known as F. Starik came up with the idea of the Poule des doods – a pool of poets who write and read a poem for the people who have no mourners at their funeral. The poem is read out at the funeral in a room of empty chairs. When it is done, the poem goes in an envelope. It is placed on the coffin, and buried with the dead person. Note that in 2020, Amsterdam had 15 people who died ‘lonely;” LA has upwards of 1500 annually.

  3. This is all so sad and heartbreaking. I’ve been pondering it for a few days now, and came back to read it again. I think I’m being urged to start praying daily for all of these souls. If they died unclaimed/lonely then maybe there’s no family to pray for them either. And then to read about this beautiful idea from F. Starik and learn that he died unexpectedly of a heart attack. May God have mercy on all these beautiful souls.

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Yes, exactly. It is all very haunting and these “lonely deaths” are clearly an offshoot of the spiritual bankruptcy that so sadly permeates our world…I love the idea of praying for those who are isolated, alone, and dying by themselves…Thank you, Ann.

  4. Melanie Poser says: Reply

    How very sad, this valley of tears we live in.

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Note the title of the book has the word “hope” in it, though, Melanie! And as I tried to point out, there are many generous souls trying to minimize the number of “unclaimed,” and trying to memorialize those who do die unclaimed…

  5. Susan Manus says: Reply

    I remember some years ago you wrote a post on this topic, including a video that showed the process of how these deaths are handled by the various departments. Fascinating subject but also so sad, especially the babies. But as you said this is an opportunity for people to show great love and claim the unclaimed.

    I’ve recently been binging a YouTube channel called Hollywood Graveyard where the host gives tours of places where celebrities have been buried. The actor who played Santa Claus in Miracle on 34th street had this same fate fall on him; he died alone in a nursing home and no one claimed his ashes. I don’t know what county Hollywood is in, but it sounds like they hold the ashes indefinitely. The YouTuber took up a collection to have “Santa Claus” (I don’t remember the actor’s name at the moment) given a proper burial.

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Hi Susan, yes, here’s the piece I wrote on the annual LA service where the unclaimed dead are remembered: Also, I just came across this quote from Sir William Gladstone: “Show me the manner in which a nation cares for its dead and I will measure with mathematical exactness the tender mercies of its people, their respect for the laws of the land, and their loyalties to high ideals.” Hollywood is in LA County–sounds like they hold the ashes for three years to see if anyone claims them, and then they’re laid to rest in a mass grave…thanks for the reflections, and the viewing tips!


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