Unity Health System held its first-ever memorial service for those who died alone.
Mark David Liddle’s life started out like many.
He graduated from Brighton High School and joined the Army, serving during the Vietnam conflict. He was a proud vet, his sister Cindy Semrau said. He was an artist and a hard worker and read the newspaper "cover to cover" every day.
But in his youth, he was struck by a car driven by a drunk driver, his sister said, and that changed him. Liddle died last September, just a month before he would have marked his 52nd birthday. He had been struck by a train. He was homeless.
And his sister is one of many in the community working to make sure society's cast-offs aren't treated like they're invisible or forgotten because they died alone.
Liddle was one of many remembered at a memorial service for the homeless Friday at Unity Health System's St. Mary's campus in Rochester. The 33 victims - of violence, poor health care, and illness - were remembered by loved ones, their lives represented by a small, white votive candle that was lit as their names were read.
The list is no doubt longer, said Sandra Stephens, Unity's director of community services. That's why a larger candle, placed among the smaller ones, was lit. Research shows the average age for a homeless person's death is 50 - well below the average for the non- homeless. The event was held to mark National Homeless Person's Day, typically held on the longest night of the year, before winter.
"Today we spend some time remembering and honoring and celebrating our friends, our family members, our neighbors who died and were homeless," Stephens said.
One of the names read during the service was a friend of hers who served on an advisory board for the homeless. The man was homeless, too, and Stephens remembers arriving late to his burial and it being over after just a few minutes.
"It broke my heart that he did not have people to say words about him," she said.
That was partly the purpose of Friday's service. Semrau spoke about her brother to the 30 or so people who gathered in Unity's chapel.
"He actually loved you, just the way you were," she said of Liddle. "And how many of us can make that claim?"
The goal, too, Stephens said, was to raise awareness about the plight of the homeless in Rochester. Many families are just a paycheck away from losing their homes. That can be stopped, she said, if the community pulls together. Until then, the memorial service will be held, she pledged.
Semrau said her brother prided himself on teaching other people how to live on the streets. He was known for collecting cans and bottles to make money. She brought a picture of him with one of his collections to the service.
"So if you could do one thing for him I ask that you acknowledge every single person you pass by today," Semrau said. "That's what my brother would do and that's what I'm going to do."
Colleen M. Farrell can be reached at (585) 394-0770 Ext. 265 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.