MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - Cremation is becoming popular for many reasons, with cost and location topping the list.
Since its prevalence, funeral homes are seeing more cases of unclaimed cremains in Horry County. The Grand Strand Funeral Home has 14 sets of remains, dating back as early as 2000. They are all stored in a cupboard. Keenan Walsh, the funeral director, says there are many reasons why someone might be left behind. A person living alone may not have a next of kin nearby. Other times, there are quarrels or problems in the family and they simply don't want the remains. Then some families move out of town. Or in the rush of settling the estate, they forget that the remains are still there. Also, on occasion, the body is dropped off and the family does not finish paying and never comes back.
"There's a lot of liability," says Walsh. "We're still dealing with somebody's loved one. And they may come back down the road and be totally offended that if we were to have disposed of their loved one's remains. So we keep them here and still continue to reach out to those families and hopefully one day they'll come and pick their loved one up. That's what we'd love to see."
In the past few months, Walsh says they have only had one family come by to pick up their loved one at the funeral home. The family said they got caught up in settling the estate, six months flew by, before they realized they never claimed the ashes. They told Walsh they were glad their family member was still there.
But still many cremains remain without a home. Funeral homes will make frequent calls to try to reach families that have loved ones still there. But Walsh says many times the phone number they have listed has been disconnected, so trying to reach family members is next to impossible.
The guidelines for cremations are much stricter than for a traditional burial. And funeral home directors in Horry County tell WMBF News that, most times, when it comes to taking care of these unclaimed remains, their hands are tied.
"Because you can undo a burial. You can't undo cremation," says Jim Bowdre, the owner of Myrtle Beach Funeral Home and Crematory. This funeral home will do around 400 cremations a year. And right now, Bowdre says they are housing close to 100 unclaimed cremains, dating back to 2006. "I feel sorry for some of these families, you know. It's a shame," says Bowdre.
According to state law in South Carolina, if a designated family member does not pick up their loved one's cremains after 90 days, the funeral home has the right to dispose of them. They can do that either by scattering the ashes in a private or state-designated lot or by scattering at sea. But it's something Bowdre says most funeral directors and coroner's offices don't do. Instead they prefer to store them. "From a cost perspective and a logistics perspective. It's a lot easier just to store the loved one's ashes," says Bowdre.
And that cost falls on the funeral home. Or for the Horry County morgue, that expense is left to tax payers. Robert Edge, the Horry County Coroner, says there are 56 unclaimed cremains in their office right now, dating back about 15 years. They're being stored in a closet. Edge tells WMBF News that there are renewed efforts to create a county cemetery. WMBF News was first to tell you of these plans back in 2012. Now the coroner says he just had a meeting on Thursday to discuss funding for it.
Bowdre says in all his years as a funeral director, it is rare that anyone ever comes back to reclaim a loved one. He could only recall one instance of that happening. And that's why he and so many other funeral directors in Horry County choose to store them. To give them a safe final resting place.
"A life lived is worth remembering," says Bowdre. "Unfortunately, there's a lot of loved ones back there that will never be remembered."