The Malta Independent 22 February 2020, Saturday

TMID Editorial: Pauper’s burial – Unnamed, unclaimed, unloved

Friday, 23 August 2019, 10:35 Last update: about 7 months ago

The Government Gazette notice saying that the corpses of four men were to be buried by the health authorities in what is known as a pauper’s burial was chilling. A pauper’s burial takes place when the body of a deceased person remains unclaimed by anyone within two months of death. Rightly so, a pauper’s burial is then organised by the state, offering the deceased person some kind of dignity.

The identity of these four men is known to the authorities, as they all carried documents which gave their name, date of birth and address. Two were Maltese, a third was a Gozitan and a fourth, with a non-Maltese surname, had a provisional ID card which meant that no official birth certificate had ever been provided.

But they remained unnamed, for privacy reasons, simply because there was no next of kin to take over responsibility of the body following death. There was no obituary in the newspapers to announce their death and give details of the funeral. Neither was there some post by a relative or friend on the social media, and therefore no comments beneath to express sympathy.

They died all alone, and no-one will remember them.

They were not the first. There were 21 unclaimed bodies in 2018, and another 16 in 2017. In all, there were more than 200 people in the last decade or so who remained unclaimed by any relatives or friends, and after the time established by the Paupers’ Burial Protocol of the 1960s expired, they were buried by the authorities in a specific lot at the Addolorata Cemetery.

They are resting in peace in a grave upon which there is no headstone.

We live in a sad, selfish world.

A study published in May showed that around 40 per cent of people aged over 11 suffer from loneliness. The older people get, the likelihood that they will experience loneliness increases, especially when their partner passes away after a long relationship.

But the story of these four men and of the 200 that preceded them goes beyond loneliness.

People have different characters, and many choose seclusion. Others find it uncomfortable in groups and feel better on their own. But most of these, not to say all, do have families and friends around, people who they can rely on in times of need. One can feel lonely in a crowd, but this does not mean that there aren’t people who care for them.

Dying alone and having no-one who claims your body is an altogether different matter. It is the extreme abandonment of a person. It is the sheer disregard towards that person’s life.

The questions that arise when one hears of such stories are numerous – what kind of life did these people live? Were they alone all their life, or was it just towards the end? Why were they abandoned? Why did they die alone? How can it be possible that there are people who have no-one to take care of them? Is society so insensitive to such plights?

We boast that we live in a world that communicates, that brings people together, that shows solidarity towards the needy. But it is clear, from the above stories, that the world is not doing enough.

Each and every one of us is not doing enough.

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