The 56-year-old man died alone in his Lacey residence in 2014. The notes in Thurston County Coroner Gary Warnock’s file are brief:
“Suicide by gun. Bare apartment, had given away or sold possessions. Note in pants pocket: ‘Too much pain, didn’t take care of my body as I should have. Stayed too long. Sorry for the mess.’ ”
The Coroner’s Office searched for information about him but found very little; his occupation was unknown.
He might have been suffering from an incurable disease, but since there was no suspicion of foul play, there was no autopsy. He never married, and his closest relative was a cousin in Las Vegas.
A small, heavy box of his ashes, along with those of nine other unclaimed bodies that ended up in the Coroner’s Office in the past year, will be interred at Mills and Mills Funeral Home in Tumwater following a service arranged by Interfaith Works. It begins at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday (Nov. 1).
The fragments of information about the lives and circumstances of these 10 people are haunting. Three died alone of natural causes in their apartments. The first was a laborer from Puerto Rico who was retired from Ostrom Mushroom Farm; the second was an artist who lived at the Boardwalk Apartments; the third, whose occupation is unknown, was a victim of kidney disease.
One man, about whom virtually nothing is known, had been kicked out of a clean and sober house in Tumwater for drug use. He died in the hospital of septic shock from an infected injection site that went untreated too long.
There is also a man who actually died in 1990 and whose son abandoned his ashes in a storage unit.
Another was an elderly widow who had no living relatives. Her deceased husband was a veteran, interred in Tahoma National Cemetery in Kent, and so her ashes were sent there to be with his. The cemetery mailed a form letter of condolence to the coroner, with a map of where the couple’s remains are located.
Yet another person to be honored at the Nov. 1 service was a 68-year-old woman from Elma who died at Providence St. Peter Hospital. Officials said her son refused to have anything to do with her – a mysterious and wrenching tale of family conflict, betrayal, and some insurmountable barrier to forgiveness.
In each of these wisps of biography there is a world of regret and loss, and it cannot help but arouse questions for all of us about how we live, what we value, and what makes people vulnerable to such a profound separation at the end of their lives.
That terse suicide note certainly makes us wish for a time machine so that we could go knock on the Lacey man’s apartment door before his despair overwhelmed him, and offer the kind of friendship that keeps people alive. But of course the best we can do now is to think about how hearing his story might change what we do in the future.
That is one reason the service scheduled for these 10 people is so important. In learning what little we can of their lives, and laying their remains to rest, we confront the sorrow of a society where family bonds are too often broken.
In life, these 10 people were part of our community; in death, they remain so.
For many years, unclaimed bodies in Thurston County were cremated and interred without rites. Two years ago, the coroner, Interfaith Works, and Mills and Mills resolved to break that silence by holding this annual service.
This act of care and compassion for the dead is a powerful lesson for the living.
The 10 people who will be remembered Sunday are Adam Axa; Joseph Brunon; Adam P. Connell; Salvador Barreto Hernandez; Summerfield Walker Horner; Alphonse John Meyers; Rosemary Odem; Mark Olscewski; Sylvia Page; Carroll H. Scott. The Olympian does not generally cover suicides or name suicide victims, so we are not linking names to individual stories in this editorial.
Those with information to help authorities find relatives of the deceased should call Coroner Gary Warnock at 360-867-2140.