When a funeral costs too much

Janie Dixon has a husband to bury and no money to bury him.

James Dixon died Monday at age 67. The 33 years he spent working as a plumber, the plaques for perfect attendance year after year, were long gone because the last 11 years were sickness. Eventual legal blindness, then death.

It did not help that the home the couple lived in for almost 40 years burned two years ago. It didn't help that Janie Dixon's health after an adult lifetime of raising six children and working in textile mills and driving a school bus left her unable to work.

James Dixon spent some time in nursing homes, then his wife of 41 years nursed him to the end. She said they talked about paying for his burial but never were able to save the money.

When your income is Social Security, there's not much left to sock away for funerals. When you had to choose between all prescribed medicines or just the ones at the top of the list, like Janie Dixon said she had to sometimes, there's little left for caskets and plots of earth.

"I loved my husband," Janie Dixon said Thursday. "I'll do whatever it takes to see him leave this earth with dignity."

She is not alone. Those on fixed incomes, the poor, spend what money they have on living.

One lady called me this week to say a young relative died and the parents had no money to bury her. She said in a later call that a loan from somewhere paid for the burial.

Caskets and burial plots can cost thousands. Dixon is working with Charles Parker from Parker Funeral Home as she tries to muster burial money together from thin air.

Burying the poor is a struggle for the families themselves, the funeral homes who want to help and a coroner's office that wants to help.

People with little or nothing to pay to bury their dead isn't new and isn't that rare, Parker said. Family, friends, churches and others usually come together to help out once word gets around that someone in need has died, he said.

Dixon said her daughter's job has started collecting some money, and she hopes family can help.

"I just have to believe, and I do, that God will provide," Dixon said.

If a family has no money for burial, the coroner's office advises families to seek assistance from sources like churches, and to price funeral homes for the best value, said Sabrina Gast, York County interim coroner. The office also tells people to see if Social Security or military benefits are available.

Calls to the coroner inquiring about helping someone specific are directed to the family or funeral home, she said.

But the county can't keep the dead forever. The morgue is not a cemetery. Funeral home are businesses and must be paid. There is no charity or nonprofit agency that handles indigent burial expenses, Gast said.

If the burial money isn't found, the county uses an indigent care fund to pay for cremation. When the family has the money to reimburse the county, about $500, the family can take possession of the ashes.

Rarely, three or four times a year, $500 is too much. The coroner's office has the remains of several people who have never been claimed for lack of relatives or money.

Janie Dixon hopes that point is never reached.

"I want to bury him proper, in a casket," Dixon said of her husband.

She wanted an expensive casket like anybody would. Yet, she doesn't have the money for even the plainest casket.

After the fire a couple years ago, Janie Dixon and her husband moved into an apartment. Their move consisted of, in Janie Dixon's own words, "A box with some clothes, my husband, and his wheelchair."

Charles Parker had someone from his office deliver a lectern and guest book to Janie Dixon's apartment this week. The book has lines for visitors to sign.

The lines for date and time of burial remain blank.