Six seniors from The Roxbury Latin School, an all-boy institution, are volunteering for something that is somehow unrelated to what they talk about in the classroom but will add a new meaning to their life.
Together with their school’s senior adviser and assistant headmaster, Mike Pojman, the seniors take a break from school to mourn those who died alone.
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Emmett Dalton, Noah Piou, Brendan McInerney, Chris Rota, Liam McDonough, and Esteban Enrique carry the casket of a man to a grave site in Fairview Cemetery. You might be wondering where the dead man’s family is, but unfortunately, he was left unclaimed by his relatives. The man identified as Nicholas Miller will even be buried with no tombstone on his grave.
The students take part in a short memorial after carrying the plain wooden coffin. As a group, they read their messages together:
“Dear Lord, thank you for opening our hearts and minds to this corporal work of mercy. We are here to bear witness to the life and passing of Nicholas Miller.
“He died alone with no family to comfort him.
“But today we are his family, we are here as his sons.
“We are honored to stand together before him now, to commemorate his life, and to remember him in death, as we commend his soul to his eternal rest.”
After reading the message, the students then take turns to recite a verse of scripture and read a passage or poem about death. Eighteen-year-old Dalton read the poem “A Reflection on an Autumn Day,” which ends with the line “death can take away what we have, but it cannot rob us of who we are.”
Once the memorial is done and they go back to class, the seniors share their reflection about an experience that had stuck with them.
McInerney, also 18, says, “I know I’m going back, and I’m going to go to school and take another quiz. But all that work, you can get caught up in it. When you kind of get out of that bubble that you can kind of stuck in, you get perspective on what’s really important in life.”
Inspired by a similar program at his alma mater in St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland, Pojman began to bring students with him to these kinds of funerals. He asked for the help of Lawler and Crosby, a local funeral home and one of the very few funeral homes in the state that provide help for these burials.
Rober Lawler, funeral director, says, “It’s the right thing to do. You know, you can’t leave these poor people lying there forever.”
Lawler himself conducts a memorial at the graveside of the deceased when there are no volunteers or no family members available. He has been doing this for 42 years now, and he says he is grateful about the impression that it leaves to people like Noah Piou, 17, one of the boys, who never experienced such funeral ever in his life.
Noah explains that it was his first time having some form of death present before him. He was left speechless at that moment. “I’ve never met Mr. Miller before, but even within that I kind of had a connection with him, and I could feel that,” he said.
When everything was said and done, the teenagers then go back into the van, drive back to school, and carry with them an unforgettable experience.