MOUNT VERNON — In the cool, marble chamber of the mausoleum of the Mount Vernon Cemetery on Wednesday, 25 boxes were stored neatly on a table, resting atop a floral-printed lace table cloth.
Inside each box were the cremated remains of a Skagit County resident who, years after death, had never been claimed.
“We don’t know much about these people, but we know there’s a story,” said David Lukov, funeral and family services director for Kern Funeral Home. “There are many great stories here.”
In front of a handful of people with their black clothes in stark contrast to the fall leaves outside the mausoleum, the remains were finally laid to rest.
The remains had been kept at the Coroner’s Office since 2000 on a table with a small memorial, Skagit County Coroner Hayley Thompson said.
“They shouldn’t be with the Coroner’s Office,” she said. “They should be in an official resting place.”
When she took office in 2016, she decided to reunite as many of them as possible with their families and restore dignity to the rest.
“They’re still part of our community,” Thompson said. “They’re still someone’s family. They deserve the respect and dignity of anyone else.”
Over the past two years, Thompson and her staff had recovered about 50 unclaimed cremated remains between the Coroner’s Office and local funeral homes, she said.
Half were reunited with families.
“It made me feel good that there were some that were like, ‘Yes, I want them,’” she said.
For some, cost may have been why they remained unclaimed, but Thompson said families were given the option to pick them up free of charge, or have the Coroner’s Office ship them for a small fee.
“At this point, it was more a factor of getting them back to where they belong,” Thompson said.
In his 40 years as an officiant, Lukov said he had never officiated such a ceremony.
“While it’s sad no one came to claim them, it speaks volumes about the community,” Lukov said. “Every single life is worth remembering.”
In the mausoleum, Lukov read out the name, birthdate and year of death of each.
“We know so little of each life contained in these urns, but we know these people were loved,” Lukov said. “And they loved others.”
One by one, Thompson, Kern Funeral Home and Mount Vernon Cemetery owner Connie LeSourd placed them in the open crypt.
Then Lukov said a prayer.
“It’s a reminder that from Earth we all come from and from Earth we shall all go,” he said.
Skagit County Commissioners Lisa Janicki and Ron Wesen both attended the service.
When Thompson approached the commissioners about the idea to inter the unclaimed remains, both said they were supportive.
“I think it’s really important to show the dignity of the lives that were in the community,” Wesen said.
Janicki applauded Thompson’s initiative to make the ceremony happen.
“That respect for life and death is so important,” Janicki said. “It’s the right thing to do.”