When People Who Are Destitute Die, It Can Be Hard for Family to Get Their Remains

Tadas Sarkauskas was a regular in the Mendicity Institution, a homeless drop-in centre, for the last three years, says the centre’s CEO Louisa Santoro.

In the last 18 months, he had been working there too on a CE scheme, she says. But he still didn’t have a home of his own.

On Friday 4 June, Sarkauskas’ friends told Santoro he was missing and they were worried, she says. She phoned hospitals and Garda stations looking for him.

On Wednesday 9 June, Gardaí confirmed he was dead and that he had named Santoro as his next of kin on some documents, she says.

With the help of his friends, she tracked down his family in Lithuania on Facebook and spoke to his cousin Karolina Laureckyte.

“Tadas was a very noble man, generous,” said Laureckyte in an email. “He loved his life as it was.”

He had lived with her family since he was a child, she says, and he stayed in contact with them especially, her younger sister, through video calls, texts and messenger.

One of his friends had contacted her on Facebook messenger to tell her he had died, she says.

“They wanted to have him home, they wanted to have his remains,” says Santoro.

Laureckyte says they were worried about the funeral costs because she is on maternity leave. “We were very worried.”

Her husband doesn’t earn a lot, she says, and her mother and sister don’t have much money either.

The Department of Social Protection helps to pay for funerals if the family can’t afford it.

But rules say they only pay for burials and not cremations, meaning some families abroad may struggle to get their loved ones’ remains back, to lay to rest in their home place.

A Problem

Santoro started to arrange a funeral service and cremation in Ireland and to work out how to send an urn of ashes back to Lithuania, she says.

She told Laureckyte not to worry too much about the costs on the Irish side, she says.

The Department of Social Protection can help to pay for funerals, she told Laureckyte, and she would organise something to cover the cost of transporting his ashes.

But then she encountered a problem. Department of Social Protection staff said they would help to pay for a burial, but not for a cremation.

“But it costs the same amount,” says Santoro.

She argued forward and back with the staff. They were helpful but bound by the rules, she says.

She went ahead with the funeral and invited all his friends and staff that knew him from other homeless services also attended, she says.

The Mendicity Institution paid the full costs, she says.

Under Review

The Department of Social Protection can help with funerals through an exceptional-needs payment, if family cannot be traced or are unable to meet costs.

“The legislation governing these particular arrangements currently only provides for the burial of the deceased’s remains,” says a spokesperson for the Department of Social Protection.

So they cannot fund a cremation, they said.

Having reviewed the circumstances of this case, the department will fund this cremation though, they said.

“The Department would like to offer their condolences to the next of kin of the deceased person,” said the spokesperson.

“A review of the existing arrangements is underway,” says the spokesperson. That review will conclude by the end of September 2021, she says.

Santoro wants the Department of Social Protection to change their rules, she says. Not just in this case but for all the others.

Since late 2020, eight people who frequently visited the Mendicity Institution have died, she says.

Irish funerals are “crazy expensive”, says Santoro, and out of reach for many families who live in places where average salaries are a third of what they are in Ireland.

They may have to make tough choices and some of them may not be able to bring their loved-ones home, she says.

“That is a terrible thing for a family,” says Santoro. “As opposed to being able to celebrate somebody’s life and mark their death in an appropriate way.”

“From a humanity point of view, empathy, trauma-informed care, it is better to be able to reunite somebody with their family, when the family are willing, for the same cost as it would be to put them in an anonymous plot,” she says.

“Tadas is our family, our friend and our brother,” says Laureckyte. “We all love him and miss him so much.”

He was born in Lithuania and it is essential that they bring him home and have a funeral there. “His friends in Lithuania want to say goodbye to Tadas,” she says.

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Laoise Neylon: Laoise Neylon is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach her at [email protected]

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