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Frank Gray

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No family or spouse has deceased on hold

Karen Greene met Gerald Pringle back in the mid-1990s when she was working as a bartender and cook at a local tavern.

Eventually the two became boyfriend and girlfriend and moved in together, and they remained boyfriend and girlfriend, through good and bad, for 16 years.

Pringle worked nearby, close enough to walk to work, Greene says, and he was good friends with a neighbor who worked in the same place. He called the neighbor his brother, she said.

He’d been married before, Greene said, and he had children, but he would never talk about his family or the marriage or why it broke up. He hadn’t seen his children in decades.

A few years ago, Pringle had a stroke. He recovered, but for some reason he later quit making payments on the house where they lived on Pittsburg Street. Green said she had no idea until they got an eviction notice from the sheriff’s department.

But the two got an apartment, and life went on.

In November, though, Greene noticed that Pringle wasn’t doing well. She said she tried to get him to see a doctor, but he wouldn’t.

Then, on Dec. 5, he went to bed early, and the dog accompanied him. A little while later, the dog came out and got Greene, who found Pringle not breathing. She said she called 911 and tried CPR, but when the ambulance arrived, they said it was too late.

Pringle had died.

The death was listed as natural causes – he had had a stroke and was on lots of medications – and his body (Greene said he wanted to be cremated) was picked up by a local funeral home.

Since then, more than a month has passed, and Green has found herself in a holding pattern.

Sure, the two had lived together for 16 years, but they weren’t married. Some states would classify them as having a common-law marriage, but most states, including Indiana, don’t recognize common-law marriages.

So Greene is technically nothing more than an acquaintance or friend, and she can’t claim the body. Relatives have to do that, but after a month, it hasn’t happened.

I talked to the coroner’s office. According to state law, officials have to make a good-faith effort to locate and notify relatives, and from the statute, there doesn’t seem to be any limit on the time it takes to locate relatives.

If a relative were to sign off and say they don’t want to claim the body, Greene might be able to claim it. But then, Greene said she doesn’t have the money to pay for arrangements. She can’t even afford the rent on the apartment they shared. Pringle might have a little money in his bank account, but she couldn’t access that to pay for arrangements, either.

“I’m heartbroken,” she said. “I cry every day.”

The funeral home caring for Pringle’s remains said someone they described as a friend of the family has contacted them about Pringle’s remains, so there might be some conclusion.

Greene hopes so.

“I just need closure,” she said. “It tears me up.”

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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