In early June 2016 a homeless nameless man died one evening at our free Loaves and Fishes free food van in Sydney’s Woolloomooloo. By early January 2017 I was returning his ashes to his family in Birmingham, England…
For me, it was a very moving time to return Frank Lawlor’s ashes to his family in Birmingham.
As I was on the train from Euston to Birmingham I was reflecting on why it was so important to me for all this to happen. I was surprised at the intensity of my feelings with regard to finding his family and returning his ashes to them. As the train sped along I thought of all those people who die alone and unacknowledged. When we were looking for details of Frank’s life we were contacted by many, many people who thought Frank could be their father. It struck me that for many people there is a father shaped hole in their lives. This has often been brought out to me in our Father’s Day, Loaves and Fishes Free restaurant lunch when I give a gift to those homeless who are fathers.
“Are you a father” I ask? And often they will shuffle and say “yes”.
Now I am sure many don’t have much contact with their children for good reason but then there are others who are just suffering. I particularly remember one man showing me a photo of his baby son.
“How old is he now”? I ask.
“He is 23 years old” was the reply.
“How long since you have seen him?” I asked.
“23 years” was the answer.
So there is a lot of pain in this.
As Frank ate at our food van I automatically regarded him as “one of us”. I was haunted by the fact that if we did not look after him he would have been buried in a pauper’s grave with 12 other unfortunates. “That cannot happen to one of us”, I thought.
We are all interconnected and I was determined to find Frank’s family. First of all, we had to do what all families do, which is give him a good funeral. As I am a Minister I could pull rank and become his next of kin. So I signed all the papers and organised a funeral for him in our church.
By this time through our trying to find Frank’s details his story became quite widely known and many people turned up for the funeral. Many homeless came out of solidarity.
Frank truly had become one of us.
We found from a fingerprint that he had migrated to Australia from Ireland. After extensive publicity which also involved radio interviews all over Ireland his family was found.
In early November (Frank died in early June) I received an email from his niece Arlene saying his parents were dead and the family had moved to Birmingham. She also wrote she was worried the news would kill his aunt as she was so frail and getting over her husband’s recent death.
So far I have found out the following:
Arlene believes that ironically Frank died on his deceased brother’s birthday or the day his brother died.
I have asked Arlene to talk to family members including his aunt and write up his story and what I plan to do is put a face and voice and life to Frank which I can tell the world. This would mean then, that this anonymous man who died alone and so far away from his family, like so many others, would be an example to the world that all these anonymous people who die alone, have a life and a story which we often overlook.
I think that is why it is so important to me. I remember ages ago being rung by a nursing home to sit with a person who was dying. “In my nursing home so many people die all alone” I was told. People might die alone but their “shape” in the jigsaw of life means there is a hole there. And that hole is filled with the magic of life as they lived it.
Frank’s family plan to take his ashes to Ireland in April or May to bury them with his parents.
I plan to be there too.
His family plan to do a fundraiser for Exodus in gratitude for finding them.
When Arlene first contacted me she seemed very guarded. We have now formed a really close relationship and as I said “we are all family now” they all agreed. Arlene told me how her children and other extended members of the family are fascinated by what happened and keep asking questions.
And here is the irony.
One of Arlene’s friends came over from Ireland full of the story of the homeless man whose family I was looking for. She’d heard my radio interview about Frank which went all over Ireland.
“Isn’t it amazing” this friend said, “how Rev. Bill is looking for his relatives”.
“Well, you are looking at them” said Arlene.
The look on her friend’s face said it all!!!
Monday 2nd January meeting in Birmingham with Arlene, her brother Anthony and sister Linda who were also Frank’s nephews and nieces.
Here is a radio interview I did re returning Frank’s ashes to his family in Birmingham: http://www.2gb.com/podcast/rev-bill-crews-returns-homeless-mans-ashes-to-the-uk/