A Few Kind Words at the End - Features - Atlanta Magazine

A Few Kind Words at the End

A look at the unclaimed dead

Sandon Jones went in the ground on a Wednesday morning, 141 days after his death. No friends or relatives attended his funeral. The ceremony lasted not quite two minutes and was shared with another man, whose coffin was placed in the same hole. Neither man received a headstone.

“Spare me,” said the chaplain toward a chalky sky, through diagonal rain, by way of a eulogy, “that I may recover strength before I go hence and be no more.” Jones went hence in the spring at age forty-one on the floor of a rooming house on Cairo Street. It was heart disease. An investigator found insulin needles on the bed near the remains of his last meal, a 3 Musketeers bar.

The citizens of Fulton County pay taxes for many reasons, and one of them is burying the poor. Sandon Jones stayed in the morgue for twenty weeks while an investigator searched in vain for his family. Finally the medical examiner sent him to a funeral home for preparation and then to Lakeside Memorial Gardens in Palmetto, twenty-five miles southwest of Atlanta, in the cheapest available casket, which two gravediggers rolled across a muddy field on a green metal cart.

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want,” said the chaplain, the Reverend Clifton Dawkins, a courtly man with a voice so soft that sometimes only the Lord could hear him. Rain mixed with the earth and made orange pools around his feet. Two gravediggers stood in the hole and fitted Jones’s casket into a black plastic sheath. They did the same for the man next to him, Henry McGowan, age seventy-seven, dead 124 days. McGowan had been found on the floor of an abandoned furniture store on Hollowell Parkway. He died of heart disease. A smoked cigarette was found in the pocket of his blue denim shorts, along with a diamond-shaped earring and fifty-six cents.

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