Pierce County’s unclaimed cremains get final resting place

Pierce County Medical Office disperses unclaimed human ashes into Puget Sound

The Pierce County Medical Office disperses unclaimed human ashes Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2016, into the Puget Sound.
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The Pierce County Medical Office disperses unclaimed human ashes Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2016, into the Puget Sound.

Chaplain Abbie Barash, standing aboard the Mundell patrol boat Thursday, read Brandy Lynn Baker’s name, age and cause of death.

“May her memory forever be a blessing,” Barash said.

Pierce County Medical Examiner Dr. Thomas Clark then poured the 53-year-old’s ashes into Carr Inlet in Puget Sound, where they slowly drifted away to the west.

Barash and staff from the Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office gave that treatment to unclaimed cremains of 34 people aboard the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department boat under a cloud-free sky. Most had died in the county during 2014 and 2015 at ages that ranged from 33 to 87. Their causes of death included natural causes, suicide and accidental overdose.

“Puget Sound is meaningful to a lot of people in the Pacific Northwest,” Clark said. “Being scattered in Puget Sound is as good of a way as I can think of.”

The medical examiner’s office is obligated by law to disperse the remains at some point. Staff hold onto cremains for at least a year while working to find next of kin to take them, Clark said.

Some cremains go unclaimed because people don’t have family, relatives don’t have $500 it costs to pay the county for cremation, or because no family members want them, Clark said.

The plastic bags filled with ashes were kept in labeled boxes sealed with packing tape, which staff were unsealing one at a time as Barash read off the names.

“This is important for me and this is an honor for me,” said Barash, an interfaith chaplain at St. Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma who is Jewish. “To honor those who may not have the opportunity to be honored is important.”

Before Barash read the names off the list, she gave a short speech after holding a moment of silence to honor the memories of those whose cremains were being dispersed.

“Without family or friends to advocate on behalf of the deceased, it becomes all too easy to be made invisible, deemed unimportant and possibly forgotten about,” she read.

“Thirty-four unclaimed cremains lie in our midst. We do not know much about them. However, we come together as a community to recognize the sanctity of their lives, of what it means to have been created in the divine image.”

This was the second time county staff dispersed unclaimed cremains into Puget Sound. They also made a trip in December 2014, where they dispersed the cremains of 23 people.

The cremains dispersed Wednesday were largely accumulated since then, though one person’s ashes were from 1998.

Kenny Ocker: 253-597-8627, @KennyOcker