Annual Memorial for the Unclaimed returns to in-person gathering

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — A memorial service for people who died in San Juan County over the last year and had no one come forward to claim their body will return to an in-person format this year for the first time since its inception in 2019.

The Memorial for the Unclaimed will take place at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 21 at the Artifacts Gallery, 302 E. Main St. in Farmington. The event was began by Megan Cullip, the chaplain at Basin Hospice, who works with San Juan County officials each year to organize the service and honor the individuals who died.

“I am ecstatic about having an in-person event this year,” Cullip said. “It’s much more meaningful in person.”

The service was held virtually in 2020 and 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cullip said the event will feature a good deal of music, a poetry reading, a nonreligious message that bears witness to the suffering of some San Juan County residents, a candle-lighting ceremony and a reading of the names of the unclaimed individuals.

Jen Johnson, left, Megan Cullip and Noah Manz perform during last year's virtual Memorial for the Unclaimed ceremony in Farmington. This year's ceremony will take place Dec. 21.

Last year that list contained 12 names, but Cullip said county officials have told her it likely will be longer this year.

Music will be performed by James Golden, Jen Johnson, Robyn Woodard, Amber Swenk and Noah Manz.

While other communities around the country have held memorial services for their deceased homeless residents for many years, Cullip said this event is unique in that it focuses exclusively on those whose bodies went unclaimed after they died. The significance of holding it on Dec. 21, the winter solstice, is that it is the longest night of the year.

“It’s a way to remember people being out (in the elements) during one of the coldest nights of the year,” she said.

Cullip said the service also offers Farmington residents a chance to come together as a community and acknowledge how they have come up short in their obligation to some of their neighbors.

Stacy Chang and Vince Moffitt light candles in memory of deceased individuals during the 2021 Memorial for the Unclaimed.

“We are failing people on a systemic level,” she said. “This is a reminder that we have a job to do to preserve human dignity and take care of each other.”

It’s also a chance to reestablish some priorities in the midst of the hectic holiday season, Cullip said.

“It’s a very profound evening,” she said. “It’s a way to meditate on what matters.”

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 Support local journalism with a digital subscription: