The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

October 1, 2013

Estate provides grave site for unclaimed cremains

By Cody Neff
Register-Herald Reporter

— Death is hard to think about. The best anyone can do is hope their affairs are in order and that everything goes smoothly. But things don’t always go the way we planned. One local woman used her estate to make sure the less-fortunate and the forgotten have one less thing to worry about.

Lillian Blankenship made a provision in her will to use part of her estate’s money to buy a grave plot in St. Sebastian Cemetery that would be used to bury unclaimed cremains. According to Melton Mortuary’s operations manager, it’s pretty common for someone to have unclaimed ashes.

“What we're going to do after this one is, we'll notify the families that we have a place to put (their loved one) and out of respect for what has happened to them, we're going to bury them,” Pam Smith said. “Family members will be able, if they do ever come, to claim the ashes. The ashes will be buried in such a way that we can have them exhumed.

“Sometimes it's just the emotions,” Smith added. “People don't want to do it. A lot of these people that we have here just don't have any family. Some family is just out of sight and out of mind.”

The first person to be buried in the new plot will be a homeless woman who will remain unidentified. The service will be at 3 p.m. today and the public is welcome to come to the funeral. This first burial will take place on the anniversary of Lillian’s death.

In keeping with her beliefs, Lillian’s family has told those in charge of the burial, “Just barely mention her name. The day is for the person being buried, not Lillian.”

Lillian’s son, Bruce Blankenship, says his mother always said she never wanted to be a mover or a shaker in this world.

“She wasn't June Cleaver (from Leave It to Beaver)," Bruce said. "She had little tolerance for people who complained and whined. She dearly loved life and lived it to the best.

“For over 20 years, she had a card ministry and sent 25 cards a week to people who needed a bright spot in their day. At her funeral, two her friends had designed a card that said, 'Today, I thought of you.' The cards were passed out with stamped envelopes to the over 250 people who attended. The cards really made their rounds. I myself received several and it has really helped me through a dark time. The last cards she sent personally was six days before her death. It took her three hours to sign her name.”

Smith says it was just in Lillian’s nature to help people in any way that she could.

“Mrs. Blankenship was one of the kinds of people that cared about the less-fortunate,” Smith said. “This is something that the family and she wanted to do for the less-fortunate. Mr. Blankenship is in charge of the service and Melton Mortuary and cremation center is supporting it.

“This won't be the first and certainly won't be the last burial out there. As far as the ceremony goes, because this woman was homeless, we want the sanctity of the service to be directed towards her as a remembrance of Bruce’s mother.”