Many rally to bury woman who died alone
She was neglected in life, even when she slipped progressively deeper into illness, and in death her body lay in the mortuary for weeks because no-one knew what to do with it.
For years Mercia Cunningham, a former teacher, had no visitors, but on Friday the community rallied to give her a decent burial.
“It was a privilege to bring her home,” the Rev George Irvine said on Friday as he conducted a service for Cunningham, 72, who died alone in the high care unit at Algoa Frail Care on December 19.
“I was horrified to learn she was in the mortuary for weeks while nobody knew where she must go. This should never happen again,” Irvine said.
Irvine read in the Weekend Post last week that Port Elizabeth Mental Health was looking for Cunningham’s family to obtain permission to bury her.
He offered to bury her from the St John’s Methodist Church where she was a member before she was moved to frail care when she developed Alzheimer’s disease.
A tribute compiled by a former colleague and past pupils read: “She shrank into a lonely and reclusive existence.
“However, Mercia’s kind and generous heart could be evidenced through the many . . . whom she assisted with handouts. She never refused anyone hungry or in need.”
The ladies group at St Johns assisted Cunningham in her later years with food and also referred her to Port Elizabeth Mental Health.
Merle Blunden of Mental Health said that after they published notices as they searched for Cunningham’s family they had received hundreds of messages from former pupils.
“She was a teacher for most of her life and touched many people’s lives,” Blunden said.
“Some came forward to say please we would like to help pay for her to have a funeral.”
The organisation had been unable to locate any of Cunningham’s family.
Cunningham taught at Victoria Park Grey, Union High and Woodridge.