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Finding Michael, part one
May 12, 2022
Season 6 | Episode 2

Finding Michael, part one

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What happens to the tens of thousands of people in the U.S. who die indigent and whose bodies go unclaimed every year?

When a loved one dies, and there’s not enough money for funeral and burial costs, it can make the grief infinitely harder. For Stephanie Stone, that grief was compounded by not knowing the exact location of her late brother’s final resting place.

“I don’t want to fail him,” she told us. “I don’t want to forget about him either. Cause it’s like everybody else did.”

Stephanie’s brother, Michael, died in 2009. He was 27 and declared indigent, meaning there was no money for a formal burial — his family didn’t claim his body and a local county stepped in to pay for final arrangements. All these years later, Stephanie still doesn’t know where he’s buried.

Stephanie and Michael grew up in a household that was financially and emotionally unstable. After their parents divorced, Michael dropped out of high school and bounced around the country, struggling with substance abuse. When her family got the call that he’d died, there weren’t a lot of details.

“All I got was he was gone and it was cirrhosis of the liver,” Stone said. “I think it takes a lot of damage to get to that point.”

Stone was left wondering what happened to her brother after he died. Was there a funeral? Was he cremated? She wanted to find his death certificate, find his body, anything to get some semblance of peace.

After searching for answers on and off for years, combing articles and navigating red tape, Stone found herself pacing through the graves at a county cemetery, calling out her brother’s name.

“I started saying like, where are you? Where are you?” she told us later. “I just need, like, a sliver of anything, you know? … I don’t believe in this stuff but, anything, a fricking bee sting me, I don’t care. Something.”

On this week’s show, we’ll trace Stone’s relationship with her brother and the journey that got her to that point. We offered to help her search, and in the second part of this two-part story, Finding Michael, part two, we learn what happens to the tens of thousands of people in the U.S. who die indigent and whose bodies go unclaimed every year.

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“This Is Uncomfortable” is Reema Khrais, Donna Tam, Hayley Hershman, Camila Kerwin, Phoebe Unterman, Marielle Segarra and Marque Greene.

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The team

Hayley Hershman Senior Producer
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