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Cities across the globe are challenged by the phenomenon of residents dying unnoticed and dead remaining unclaimed by significant others. They confront us with questions about loneliness and isolation, expose inequalities and social fragmentation. They can, however, also mobilise unexpected care of different professionals, representatives of local authorities, social workers, and coordinators of special funeral ceremonies, showcasing the social resilience of urban environments. The phenomenon of organising ‘lonely funerals’ can be seen as such an initiative. Lonely funerals take place when individuals pass away unnoticed or unclaimed, with no next of kin available or willing to pay, organise, or attend the funeral. This phenomenon, occurring in various municipalities throughout the Netherlands, highlights a deeply human concern that merits attention and discussion. It has come to our attention that there are many different ways of dealing with the lonely dead in Dutch cities.


The event, held on 24 June, is inspired by the anthropology master's research conducted by Fiona Bourlos-May and Anna van de Koolwijk, supervised by Kristine Krause, focusing on the poignant topic of lonely funerals across the Netherlands. It will begin with an introduction by the researchers, who will present their research and share key findings on lonely funerals across multiple Dutch cities. Participants will then break into discussion groups. 

Discussion Topics: The event will provide a platform for an in-depth discussion based on six major findings from the master’s research, which reveal the complexity and diversity of responses surrounding lonely funerals: 

  1. Definition: What constitutes a lonely funeral, and what does the use of a definition mean for funding, responsibility, and attendees? 
  2. Tracing Relatives: What efforts are being made to find the next of kin and possible attendees? 
  3. Policy: No formal policies govern lonely funerals; should there be a (national) policy? 
  4. Funding: Financial aspects and funding mechanisms. 
  5. Designated Teams: The role and structure of teams handling lonely funerals. 
  6. Privacy & anonymity: The decision-making process of including or excluding the names of the deceased on websites, reports and cemeteries. 

After the group discussions, everyone will reconvene for a collective discussion to share insights and reflections. 

Invitation Details:  

This event operates on an invitation basis. If you did not receive an invitation but are interested in attending, please reach out to the organisers to inquire about availability and participation. 

We look forward to a meaningful and impactful discussion at the Death Dialogues event. For more information, please contact 

Fiona Bourlos-May, 


Anna van de Koolwijk,