When there is almost no one to say goodbye
How does a funeral work if there are few people - or none - to mourn a deceased person?
In March this year, Wexford town awoke to sad news. The body of a 62-year-old man, Alan Moore, had been discovered in a house in a busy part of the town.
The Garda found no suspicious marks on Moore’s body, but he had lain there for several weeks, and was discovered only because a passer-by noticed that the occupant of the house had Christmas decorations up, months after the holiday season.
It was discovered that Moore was originally from Salford in the UK and had “kept himself to himself” while living in Wexford.
Gardaí initially struggled to trace Moore’s relatives, but two brothers and a small number of other people – about a dozen, not all of whom knew him – attended his funeral a few weeks later. Among those who helped transfer his coffin to the hearse were two journalists covering the event.
Cases like Alan Moore’s are rare but the number of people living alone, and the growth of emigration, means relatives are not always present when a funeral takes place.
Usually when organising funeral services, funeral directors follow instructions handed to them by family or set out in a will. But what can they do if the deceased’s family or friends cannot be traced and no mourners are expected?
Gus Nichols has been the managing director of one of Dublin’s oldest funeral firms, JC Nichols, for 16 years, and he has organised funerals where no guests have been present.
The 2011 Census revealed that a quarter of people over the age of 65 and almost half of those over the age of 85 are living alone, and Nichols has noted a slight increase in the number of pre-arranged funerals and services with no mourners.
“It’s unusual that you can’t trace relatives but sometimes relatives can be found who want nothing to do with the person. Then you have a little bit of an issue. But ultimately the body won’t stay there for months and months,” he says.
If the deceased has not left a will or family members are unable or unwilling to help plan the arrangements, funeral directors have to take things into their own hands. Particularly in urban areas, where neighbours tend to be people who live next door rather than close acquaintances, it can be almost impossible to glean information about the deceased’s preferences.
In that case, elements such as flowers and music have to be kept to a minimum and the service tends to be very simple, says Nichols, who has also served as president of the International Federation of Funeral Operatives.