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Lehigh County covers burials for lost souls with no families

By Jaccii Farris, Reporter, JFarris@wfmz.com
Published On: Mar 22 2014 05:16:45 PM CDT
Updated On: Mar 24 2014 09:14:31 AM CDT

Of the more than 5,500 people who died in Lehigh County in the last year, .27 percent had no one to care for them when they are at their most vulnerable. Some counties cremate the unclaimed, but in Lehigh County that's not the case.

LEHIGH COUNTY, Pa. -

It was a brutal winter. The frozen ground made the task of burying the dead even more difficult.

And recently, grounds crews in Lehigh County had to step up in more ways than one.

"In the in winter time the problem is busting through the surface," said Lehigh County worker Brian Holgate who digs the graves at the county cemetery. "It's just digging, ah, 3 by 6 foot holes, 6 feet deep."

It was a bone chilling 10 degrees on January 23rd. The ground covered in snow.

Dennis was 62 when he died. His body waited at the morgue for 50 days, but not because the ground was frozen -- tt wasn't because of the weather.

"We are providing a burial for a gentleman who is an unclaimed individual," said Lehigh County Coroner Scott Grim.

Of the more than 5,500 hundred people who died in Lehigh County in the last year.
Dennis is among the .27 percent who have no one to care for them when they are at their most vulnerable.

Some counties cremate the unclaimed. But in Lehigh County that's not the case.

"We try to provide a respectable resting place," said Grim.

That place is Cedar Heights in Allentown.

"There's no frills to this. No viewing, no gathering afterwards. It's a very simple, but again, respectable resting place," said Grim.

And while there is no grieving family to mourn him, there are plenty of souls to carry him to his final resting place.

"We dig the hole and we bury them. We act as pall bearers because nobody is here just us," said Lehigh County worker Peter Boyle.

It's a solemn duty that pulls at the hearts of Cedarbrook maintenance workers and the coroner's office staff.

"Regardless of what that individual is, he or she is a human being. Just dying alone, that is bothersome. I hope that never happens to me or to anybody else again, but the reality is a reality," said Grim.

"Yes he was vulnerable but we tried to fill in the blanks. He was a gentleman who has been alone most of his life and we wanted to ensure today that wasn't going to happen," said Funeral Director Jay Gilbert.

When the eulogy is done and the funeral over, Dennis is carefully lowered into the ground.

The maintenance workers go back to their lives, but they won't forget Dennis.

"We cut the grass, we plant grass in the summertime, do all the maintenance over here to make it nice," said Boyle. "It's sad, but they got us..They got somebody."f