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At Concord’s Blossom Hill Cemetery, dignified burials for strangers

  • Standing on top of a granite ledge in the woods at Blossom Hill Cemetery, Jill McDaniel pours ashes from a red velvet bag as the Rev. Terry Donovan Odell reads final words at a burial service in September. "I think it's really important to be able to acknowledge that death is real," Odell said. "It's hard for people to talk about it. It's hard to go through things. I just appreciate the honor and privilege of being with people at their most vulnerable." It was the twelfth service they've done, standing in for those who had no one at their final service.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    Standing on top of a granite ledge in the woods at Blossom Hill Cemetery, Jill McDaniel pours ashes from a red velvet bag as the Rev. Terry Donovan Odell reads final words at a burial service in September. "I think it's really important to be able to acknowledge that death is real," Odell said. "It's hard for people to talk about it. It's hard to go through things. I just appreciate the honor and privilege of being with people at their most vulnerable." It was the twelfth service they've done, standing in for those who had no one at their final service.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • Jill McDaniel and Rev. Terry Donovan Odell remove a cover over two holes and prepare for a burial service for two people who had no known friends or known next of kin. "The initial response of people hearing about this, this little thing that we do, it's like, 'Oh, how can that be," Odell said. She mentioned that a lot of people are shocked or outraged that these people have no one at the end of their life. "I think it's important to know the story or know what could be the story. We don't know the stories." The city of Concord gave a 'common ground' area for welfare and the poor to be buried. A cremation takes place most of the time rather than a full grave for space reasons, McDaniel said. Usually if the deceased has known family, there is a burial fee but when they're not, it falls on the city. In 1831, the Legislature passed a law requiring local governments to make sure those without means were "decently buried." A version remains on the books today, requiring that if a person receiving local welfare assistance dies, they "be decently buried or cremated at the expense of the town or city." The state government used to cover the funeral expenses of some welfare recipients, but budget cuts eliminated that money starting in 2009. Around the same time, with the economy mired in recession, Concord began spending more and more on its pauper funerals. A budget line of $1,750 in fiscal 2008 spiked past $5,300 in 2009 and topped $6,400 in 2010. Costs fell to less than $5,000 in 2011 and roughly $4,500 in 2012, but the city estimated funeral expenses hit $8,500 in the last fiscal year; an actual figure for fiscal 2013 won't be available until an audit is completed.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    Jill McDaniel and Rev. Terry Donovan Odell remove a cover over two holes and prepare for a burial service for two people who had no known friends or known next of kin. "The initial response of people hearing about this, this little thing that we do, it's like, 'Oh, how can that be," Odell said. She mentioned that a lot of people are shocked or outraged that these people have no one at the end of their life. "I think it's important to know the story or know what could be the story. We don't know the stories." The city of Concord gave a 'common ground' area for welfare and the poor to be buried. A cremation takes place most of the time rather than a full grave for space reasons, McDaniel said. Usually if the deceased has known family, there is a burial fee but when they're not, it falls on the city. In 1831, the Legislature passed a law requiring local governments to make sure those without means were "decently buried." A version remains on the books today, requiring that if a person receiving local welfare assistance dies, they "be decently buried or cremated at the expense of the town or city." The state government used to cover the funeral expenses of some welfare recipients, but budget cuts eliminated that money starting in 2009. Around the same time, with the economy mired in recession, Concord began spending more and more on its pauper funerals. A budget line of $1,750 in fiscal 2008 spiked past $5,300 in 2009 and topped $6,400 in 2010. Costs fell to less than $5,000 in 2011 and roughly $4,500 in 2012, but the city estimated funeral expenses hit $8,500 in the last fiscal year; an actual figure for fiscal 2013 won't be available until an audit is completed.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • While some people are known and have loved ones holding services at an earlier time, others are buried without any knowledge of friends or family. "We're thankful for," Jill McDaniel began. "The good that you've done," Rev. Terry Donovan Odell interjects. "And we're sorry for any suffering. Those are the two things we want them to know."<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    While some people are known and have loved ones holding services at an earlier time, others are buried without any knowledge of friends or family. "We're thankful for," Jill McDaniel began. "The good that you've done," Rev. Terry Donovan Odell interjects. "And we're sorry for any suffering. Those are the two things we want them to know."

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • The Rev. Terry Donovan Odell, left, performs a burial service as Jill McDaniel listens nearby waiting to place a white rose on top of the urn. "When I first started working here, when we'd have a burial that there was going to be no service at, it was called a drop-in,"  McDaniel said. "The name alone bothered me, 'Drop-in.' We buried at our leisure." The two have performed 18 services since they began one year ago on November 15, 2012. "I think it's really important to be able to acknowledge that death is real. It's hard for people to talk about it. It's hard to go through things. I just appreciate the honor and privilege of being with people at their most vulnerable," Odell said.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    The Rev. Terry Donovan Odell, left, performs a burial service as Jill McDaniel listens nearby waiting to place a white rose on top of the urn. "When I first started working here, when we'd have a burial that there was going to be no service at, it was called a drop-in," McDaniel said. "The name alone bothered me, 'Drop-in.' We buried at our leisure." The two have performed 18 services since they began one year ago on November 15, 2012. "I think it's really important to be able to acknowledge that death is real. It's hard for people to talk about it. It's hard to go through things. I just appreciate the honor and privilege of being with people at their most vulnerable," Odell said.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • Tony Abbott, a groundsman at Blossom Hill Cemetery, puts earth back in a hole for a burial on a family plot. The remains were transported in an urn and brought to the cemetery by a family friend. While some burials are covered under city welfare aid, others are paid for by family or friends, however, if no one is present for the burial service, Jill McDaniel and Rev. Terry Donovan Odell stand in.  "They may have had this huge celebration of life at another time and now this is just the final part and maybe they don't want to go through the, the sadness of seeing their loved one put in the grave," McDaniel explained.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    Tony Abbott, a groundsman at Blossom Hill Cemetery, puts earth back in a hole for a burial on a family plot. The remains were transported in an urn and brought to the cemetery by a family friend. While some burials are covered under city welfare aid, others are paid for by family or friends, however, if no one is present for the burial service, Jill McDaniel and Rev. Terry Donovan Odell stand in. "They may have had this huge celebration of life at another time and now this is just the final part and maybe they don't want to go through the, the sadness of seeing their loved one put in the grave," McDaniel explained.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • "No one comes on to this earth alone," McDaniel said. "And they shouldn't go out alone."<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    "No one comes on to this earth alone," McDaniel said. "And they shouldn't go out alone."

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • Jill McDaniel tosses a white rose from a granite ledge in the woods behind Blossom Cemetery after performing a farewell service in which the ashes were dispersed from the ledge. When she began, McDaniel paid for the flowers out of pocket, something, she said, symbolizes purity and a new life. "We are grateful for your life and we honor your death," McDaniel and Rev. Terry Donovan Odell recited aloud. It was their twelfth service since they began.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    Jill McDaniel tosses a white rose from a granite ledge in the woods behind Blossom Cemetery after performing a farewell service in which the ashes were dispersed from the ledge. When she began, McDaniel paid for the flowers out of pocket, something, she said, symbolizes purity and a new life. "We are grateful for your life and we honor your death," McDaniel and Rev. Terry Donovan Odell recited aloud. It was their twelfth service since they began.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • Standing on top of a granite ledge in the woods at Blossom Hill Cemetery, Jill McDaniel pours ashes from a red velvet bag as the Rev. Terry Donovan Odell reads final words at a burial service in September. "I think it's really important to be able to acknowledge that death is real," Odell said. "It's hard for people to talk about it. It's hard to go through things. I just appreciate the honor and privilege of being with people at their most vulnerable." It was the twelfth service they've done, standing in for those who had no one at their final service.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
  • Jill McDaniel and Rev. Terry Donovan Odell remove a cover over two holes and prepare for a burial service for two people who had no known friends or known next of kin. "The initial response of people hearing about this, this little thing that we do, it's like, 'Oh, how can that be," Odell said. She mentioned that a lot of people are shocked or outraged that these people have no one at the end of their life. "I think it's important to know the story or know what could be the story. We don't know the stories." The city of Concord gave a 'common ground' area for welfare and the poor to be buried. A cremation takes place most of the time rather than a full grave for space reasons, McDaniel said. Usually if the deceased has known family, there is a burial fee but when they're not, it falls on the city. In 1831, the Legislature passed a law requiring local governments to make sure those without means were "decently buried." A version remains on the books today, requiring that if a person receiving local welfare assistance dies, they "be decently buried or cremated at the expense of the town or city." The state government used to cover the funeral expenses of some welfare recipients, but budget cuts eliminated that money starting in 2009. Around the same time, with the economy mired in recession, Concord began spending more and more on its pauper funerals. A budget line of $1,750 in fiscal 2008 spiked past $5,300 in 2009 and topped $6,400 in 2010. Costs fell to less than $5,000 in 2011 and roughly $4,500 in 2012, but the city estimated funeral expenses hit $8,500 in the last fiscal year; an actual figure for fiscal 2013 won't be available until an audit is completed.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
  • While some people are known and have loved ones holding services at an earlier time, others are buried without any knowledge of friends or family. "We're thankful for," Jill McDaniel began. "The good that you've done," Rev. Terry Donovan Odell interjects. "And we're sorry for any suffering. Those are the two things we want them to know."<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
  • The Rev. Terry Donovan Odell, left, performs a burial service as Jill McDaniel listens nearby waiting to place a white rose on top of the urn. "When I first started working here, when we'd have a burial that there was going to be no service at, it was called a drop-in,"  McDaniel said. "The name alone bothered me, 'Drop-in.' We buried at our leisure." The two have performed 18 services since they began one year ago on November 15, 2012. "I think it's really important to be able to acknowledge that death is real. It's hard for people to talk about it. It's hard to go through things. I just appreciate the honor and privilege of being with people at their most vulnerable," Odell said.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
  • Tony Abbott, a groundsman at Blossom Hill Cemetery, puts earth back in a hole for a burial on a family plot. The remains were transported in an urn and brought to the cemetery by a family friend. While some burials are covered under city welfare aid, others are paid for by family or friends, however, if no one is present for the burial service, Jill McDaniel and Rev. Terry Donovan Odell stand in.  "They may have had this huge celebration of life at another time and now this is just the final part and maybe they don't want to go through the, the sadness of seeing their loved one put in the grave," McDaniel explained.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
  • "No one comes on to this earth alone," McDaniel said. "And they shouldn't go out alone."<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
  • Jill McDaniel tosses a white rose from a granite ledge in the woods behind Blossom Cemetery after performing a farewell service in which the ashes were dispersed from the ledge. When she began, McDaniel paid for the flowers out of pocket, something, she said, symbolizes purity and a new life. "We are grateful for your life and we honor your death," McDaniel and Rev. Terry Donovan Odell recited aloud. It was their twelfth service since they began.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

Numbers 9 and 10 were buried on a muggy July morning. Their urns were placed in two square holes cut by a spade, side by side in the common ground section of Blossom Hill Cemetery. There were no friends or family. Only the Rev. Terry Donovan Odell and Jill McDaniel stood over the final resting place. They conducted a burial service that lasted five minutes.

“We are grateful for your life, and we honor your death,” they recited, together.

Final words for strangers, followed by the pattering sound of earth hitting the urns, delivered by groundsmen who waited nearby.

Friday marked the one-year anniversary of services performed by McDaniel, Concord’s cemetery administrator, and Odell, an interfaith minister, for the destitute or those without family available. Odell said they know little, if anything, about the people they bury. But they want to ensure a burial with dignity.

“When I first started working here,” McDaniel said, “when we’d have a burial that there was going to be no service at, we called it a ‘drop-in,’ and the name alone bothered me. ‘Drop-in.’ And that would be, we buried at our leisure.”

At first, McDaniel began looking on, alone, as the groundsmen did their work. Then she met Odell, who visited one day to ask about renting the cemetery chapel. The two found they had an instant connection, taking comfort in each other’s presence.

“We found out both our mothers had died within days of each other of the same year,” McDaniel said.

A high school teacher of 30 years at Bishop Brady High School, Odell had resigned from the school and left the Roman Catholic Church, pursuing a master’s in theology and eventually attending seminary school in New York.

After Odell read an article describing a service provided in similar circumstances in another community, the two developed their Service of Farewell. It grew with their friendship. Out of pocket and on their own time, McDaniel bought the flowers, Odell put together the words, and they stood as witness whenever their schedules allowed.

“I’ve always been drawn to the brokenhearted,” Odell said. “. . . Over the marginal. Over the people that struggle. . . . I say dancing on the margins.”

Since the 19th century, New Hampshire has cared for its destitute residents in death as well as in life.

In 1831, the Legislature passed a law requiring local governments to make sure those without means were “decently buried.” A version remains on the books today, requiring that if a person receiving local welfare assistance dies, he or she “be decently buried or cremated at the expense of the town or city.”

The state government used to cover the funeral expenses of some welfare recipients, but budget cuts eliminated that money, starting in 2009.

About the same time, with the economy mired in recession, Concord began spending more on burial expenses as part of its welfare aid budget. A budget line of $1,750 in fiscal 2008 spiked past $5,300 in 2009 and topped $6,400 in 2010. The city estimated funeral expenses would come in at $8,500 in 2013.

Not all who are buried under the eyes and words of McDaniel and Odell are unknown. Nor are all of the burials paid for by the city. No. 11 was buried that same July day in a family plot. The urn was dropped off by a family friend, McDaniel said.

“They (may) have had this huge celebration of life at another time, and now this is just the final part, and maybe they don’t want to go through the sadness of seeing their loved one put in a grave,” McDaniel explained.

But in some cases, McDaniel said, “There is no family. They don’t know the people who were in charge of taking care of the burial and the cremation. Some tell us, ‘There is no family to be found.’ Nothing, nothing – this person was alone.”

“We bear witness to that, that they lived,” Odell said.

No. 12 came months later. In September. The air was cooler. McDaniel and Odell did the honors as they had before. McDaniel slid into Odell’s red sedan, trying not to agitate her back, hurt the day before. She was determined to have the ceremony, having canceled it previously due to rain.

Navigating the labyrinth of road within Blossom Hill Cemetery, they came to a stop where the pavement ended and the dirt began, leading to a trail into dense woods. The setting was different from the usual open air and grassy plots. A service for this person had already been held by family and friends, and they wanted the remains scattered in this spot – a place free of charge to anyone.

The two worked their way through the woods, up a steep path that skirted along the edge of a granite ledge. McDaniel carried a white rose in her right hand and tucked a red velvet bag carrying the remains under her arm. She explained later that the rose represented a new life, purity.

“To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under Heaven,” Odell began.

A name was read, and McDaniel poured the remains from the velvet bag off the ledge to the forest floor. She tossed the white rose, and it fell through shade and light as the sun cut through the canopy.

“No one comes onto this earth alone,” McDaniel said later. “And they shouldn’t go out alone.”

(Ben Leubsdorf contributed to this report.)

http://biblehub.com/ecclesiastes/3-1.htm reads of: "The providence of God disposes and arranges every detail of man's life. This proposition is stated first generally, and then worked out in particular by means of antithetical* sentences.. . . (and) The proposition is - In human affairs Providence arranges the moment when everything shall happen, the duration of its operation, and the time appropriate thereto. . .Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary. . . ( = ) Earthly pursuits are no doubt lawful in their proper time and order (Ec 3:1-8), but unprofitable when out of time and place; " * = http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/antithetical " being in direct and unequivocal opposition " example: "the antithetical forces of good and evil " as in right or wrong, and legal or illegal. Read: http://www.lyricsfreak.com/b/byrds/turn+turn+turn_20026419.html and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turn!_Turn!_Turn! ( Writer(s) Book of Ecclesiastes, Pete Seeger"; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pete_Seeger born: 1919 ___ " Producer Terry Melcher " 1942-2004, RIP; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Byrds ____ ) listen: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bgq8_EmOSM0 on horseback of 3:21 minutes with 148,037 visits.

I have witnessed their work and these two women are amazing people. Terri Odell has a beautiful way of making spirituality reach anyone regardless of ones religious preferences. Thank you Terri

Thank You for your kind and affirming words Pamela...Happy New Year....Might you be a former student of mine?

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