Saturday, December 26, 2009

More Burying Than Blogging, Lately

I have been more than a little slack in my blogging in recent weeks. But, sometimes, the actual world will do that ... make demands upon the time you would normally spend in the virtual world.

Such was the case with me for the better part of two weeks this month. Sure, at times, it was tiring and annoying ... but it was also educating and inspiring ... and it reminded me that the best way to shut out the hectic hustle of the holiday season might not be shutting one's self into a darkened and sound-proofed room but, instead, to go out into the world to serve, to accept added tasks and responsibilities.

That's what happened to me in early December when I got a Saturday afternoon phone call letting me know that a member of Midland's Burmese community was in the hospital. The doctor had diagnosed cancer, in an advanced state, and suggested the patient did not have long to live. Could I help with preparations and arrangements, I was asked ... well ... sure, I guess ... I mean, I had helped move furniture, buy school supplies, gather donated goods and and things like that. But this was something decidedly different, decidedly more serious ... but I said "yes, of course" nonetheless.

I have written before about the Chin, an ethnic, Christian minority from the southeast Asian nation of Myanmar/Burma. An oppressed people and an oppressed church, some have fled their homeland and now make their homes in villages and refugee camps in neighboring nations such as India, Malaysia and Thailand. Many of those apply for refugee status, and a chance to emigrate to the west ... and such is the case with the Chin who received permission to enter the United States, and now make their homes in Chicago, Houston, San Diego, Grand Rapids ... and Midland, Texas.

They are a good and gracious, hard-working people ... and I am the better for knowing them, working with them, celebrating with them and worshiping with them - and helping them make "arrangements."

First, there was the matter of hospice care ... a concept with which they were unfamiliar - a non-profit organization that provides care and support for the terminally-ill and their families. We visited with a case worker for Hospice of Midland, and it was agreed to transfer our friend right away to the hospital's hospice unit. From that point, there were two sets of arrangements to make. If his condition should improve, we would need to move him to a nursing home. If not, we needed to prepare for his funeral and interment ...

... at three o'clock, Monday morning, it became just one set of arrangements that needed to be made ... and that's when the REAL challenges arose. As I said, the Chin were not familiar with the idea of hospice care ... and they weren't prepared - any more than I was - for the procedural and legal hurdles that needed to be cleared before we could bury our friend. What followed was a week-and-half of local meetings and international phone calls, advances and setbacks, affidavits and inquests.

There may be people in America's larger cities with expertise in these matters ... but not in Midland, Texas ... at least, not until now. In America and other western nations, we have become used to almost-instant access with almost everybody, and the ability to speak with people, transmit information and forms to-and-from our offices, our homes, our portable phones. This man had family ... but we couldn't reach them ... his wife might be in Myanmar/Burma, or she may have moved across the border to a village in India ... his son might be in Myanmar/Burma, or he may have made his way to a refugee camp in Malaysia. He had information on their full, correct names, and how to get messages to them for arranging phone contact ... but he took that information with him. We needed to find a way, within the guidelines set by the Texas Funeral Service Commission, to get permission to bury this man.

That we eventually gathered for a memorial service at a local funeral home, followed by a graveside service at a local cemetery, is a tribute to the way so many people stepped-in and stepped-up to do something, anything to help. One volunteer worked with other members of the Chin community to try to identify numbers on the phone of the deceased phone, trying to identify those that would connect them to family members on the far side of the world, then making those calls ... others attended meetings the Chin had with funeral directors and cemetery managers to make arrangements and draft contracts ... another visited all of the campuses where Chin kids attended school, to advise principals that the kids would need time-off to attend a funeral ... others came forward and contributed money to help defray funeral costs ... a judge called me at home one night to advise on what I needed to do in order to clear the legal hurdles ... an attorney cleared space on her calendar to help me draft an affidavit - and did it again, two days later, to draft a second affidavit ... a justice of the peace cleared space on his calendar to hold an inquest and prepare an order allowing me to sign-off on the interment - and did it again, two days later, to prepare a second order allowing me to sign-off on funerary arrangements ... pastors and church organists contributed words and music to the services ... and so many others offered their prayers and their words of encouragement.

One of the pastors presiding over the memorial service reminded us that, just as it takes a village to raise a child, so it also took a village to lay this man to rest. He was right ... and I am grateful for what everyone did ... and will continue to do ... our experience of this past month already has us planning what we will do in the months ahead to prepare for another such occasion.

But, for me ... I'm done with burying, for now ... and more-than-ready to get back to blogging.


Geo said...

That's an amazing story, Jeff. Kudos to you for your unselfish work.

Good choice on Hospice of Midland, too. Not only is it the only non-profit hospice in town, the people who work there are fantastic.

Jeff said...

George, I agree with you 101% about Hospice ... they ARE fantastic.