It’s a less talked about occurrence. Or maybe it is just something we all take for granted. But all over this quiet little city, people are dying with no family to take care of them. With a steady transient population and high immigration rates it’s really not such a surprise. So what happens to those people? The people who have no next of kin? No one willing to step forward to take them into their care? Well, the majority of them go to the Coroner’s Office and sit in the refrigerator waiting for a person that will never come. Eventually they are cremated and scattered in a mass grave with all their new friends. With all the others who have been forgotten. However, when scrappy upstart girls like me get involved, every now and again there is a different outcome.
I received a call on a Friday about a woman who was set to die within the next 24 hours. I made an appointment to come see her, but sure enough, less than 24 hours later she was dead. I met with her caretaker at a Coffee Bean up the street, a kooky and energetic man from Russia with an accent so heavy it was difficult to discern what he was saying. I let him know we had taken Liliya into our care and that I had some forms that needed to be signed, but there was no next of kin, and he did not have the power to sign them. I had never encountered this situation and was unsure what to do. It seemed that they had called the coroner and they had refused to come pick her up stating that she had the caretaker there and she had died on hospice so it was not a Coroner’s case. The caretaker was visibly upset and did not want to be responsible for anything, and as I sipped my coffee and nodded or smiled based on hand gestures and facial cues it slowly dawned on me that I may have totally effed myself by agreeing to help.
The next day my crematory confirmed that they could not accept the Caretaker’s signature and told me that the only way to cremate Lily was to go to court and get a grant from a Judge or call the Coroner’s and insist they come get her. At this point I became fiercely committed to cremating Lily as I knew there was a caveat that allowed for the funeral director to sign if due diligence had been met. What I didn’t realize was the legal nightmare I was about to get myself wrapped up in, and how I had zero guidance to get through it because no funeral director had ever bothered to go to court for someone before. Or at least, none that I could find.
Fast forward to a week later when I had figured out that the first thing I had to do was turn the case over to a Public Administrator to look into her assets and see if they could find out if there were any relatives living in LA. Weekly calls with Officer Kocheck proved that Lily had no family other than a sister in Russia and no money or value. He closed the case after twelve or fourteen days and only said he knew I had to go to Probate Court but wasn’t sure where. If you have never been privy to the court system, let me give you a little taste of what its like. Picture multiple buildings, multiple stories high, filled with a whole lotta people that do not give a crippity crap about you or why you are there. Here’s how Day One in the court system went.
“Hi! I’m Amber. I’m a Funeral Director. I’m trying to get custody of dead body.”
“Go to floor 17”
“Please don’t send me back there. I’ve already been there.”
“Go to floor 17”
I proceed to District Attorney’s Office.
“Hi! They sent me here again.”
“Don’t know why. Go back to floor 2.”
“Please. Please. No. Please help me.”
“You want a what?”
“I don’t want a dead body. I have one. No wait! That sounds wrong.”
“Did you call the Coroner’s?”
“Yeah they don’t want it.”
On phone with Coroner’s outside court.
“Please. Please tell me where to go.”
“We don’t know you go. To court somewhere. Wait why do you have a dead body?”
Hours. It went on for hours. Hoooooouuuuuurrrrsssss.
Day Two. I find Probate Court. They tell me I have to get a lawyer after I have stood in line for 25 minutes.
I call Caitlin and I cry. I tell her that I fucked up by taking this body and there’s nothing we can do.
Day Three (which is really about Day 17 in the whole process). I go back to court. Because I hate losing.
This time I meet someone who knows what I’m talking about. She gives me all the court paperwork I need to fill out and tells me to come back again at some ungodly hour like 7am, but I will do it if it means I will get control of the body.
I do everything she says, fill out all the paperwork. I write statements. Fill out court cover letters and I show up at 6:30AM to Probate Court to file everything with the court. I pay my fees and then go to another floor, with another woman, to give more paperwork, and then I sign in. And then, I wait….
Two hours or so go by. Some d-bag takes my spot by putting his brief case down when I get up to stretch. I remind myself that there are police officers everywhere and I will definitely get caught if I try to murder him. Another court proceeding lets out down the hall and a woman dragging her child screams at a lawyer. YAS! Finally something exciting. More time passes and finally my case gets called. A woman motions to me and hands me paperwork with GRANTED stamped proudly across. I’ve never given birth, but I was now the proud mama of a 92 year old, 88 pound, Russian woman. I only had to carry her for a month. But what an incredibly long and exhausting month.
I fax the paperwork to my Crematory and immediately have Lily cremated. Perhaps this is the reason I can’t have children. I’d set them on fire the first chance I get. Lily lives with me now. If you are wondering. Her Caretaker didn’t want her back. I had to really stifle my indignation and keep myself from shouting “AFTER ALL THAT I WENT THROUGH?!” But, he did tell me it was always her dream to go to the beach. So, maybe one day, when it’s warm again, I’ll take her there. This woman. Who I never met. And have never even seen a picture of. Maybe we will watch a sunset together. I’ll build a castle in the sand. We’ll play frisbee. And finally, I can say good-bye, to my body, that no-body else wanted.