One final gift for the impoverished and the homeless: a decent burial

Al Gorman
Al Gorman WFAE

From Gerard Carter, executive director/chief executive officer with Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Charlotte.

The recent article by Eric Frazier (“Homeless in life, homeless in death,” Sept. 24, Charlotteobserver.com) presents a poignant reminder that our communities are truly made better when people of goodwill come together to serve neighbors in need.

It is clear that Mr. Al Gorman, an Army veteran who had experienced 7 years of homelessness before finding more permanent housing earlier this year, was the beneficiary of the kindness of local friends before his death last month from a vehicle accident in Charlotte.

The generosity and love of his friends clearly extended beyond life. In this way, he was a genuinely blessed man.

His story is, quite unfortunately, the story of too many of our neighbors. The crush of poverty has a cruel ability to take away the last vestiges of human dignity from those operating at what Pope Francis has repeatedly referred to as living on the “peripheries.” Reaching out to those on the margins is what we as a community are called to do and it is what so many good people do day after day here in Charlotte.

At Catholic Charities, we are privileged to be part of this effort to reach out to the peripheries. Our burial assistance program last year facilitated dignified burials for 91 deceased, including assisting parents of 10 children. Thirty-four seniors, many having experienced lives much like Mr. Gorman, were able to be served.

It’s not just about coordinating services with the city cemetery and our extremely generous partners at countless local funeral homes who provide services at a mere fraction of the actual cost. It’s a service of mercy and counsel in which sadness and despair over how to bury a loved one when there’s no money is turned into an experience of hope and support.

The only correction I would make to the article is that no one is turned away due to lack of ability to contribute to burial costs. Contrary to the article, there is no “need to repay as much of the $1,100 funeral bill…” This program is supported by donations from local churches, our benefactors, and voluntary contributions made by family members and friends of the deceased.

It is our belief, when possible for grieving family and friends, that even contributing a small amount towards the cost of burial upholds and respects the dignity of those who come into our offices each week seeking this assistance. Often those we assist are weighed down by thoughts of being so poor as to be unable to claim the remains of a loved one but they leave with the comfort of having contributed even $10 or $20 toward the burial of a loved one or dear friend.

In the end, Catholic Charities started this program many years ago and it continues to exist because we remain steadfast that this cannot be a community which relies upon anonymous cremation and burial at sea because one is too poor to be properly laid to rest. And blessedly, we are a community that works together as individuals, community organizations, businesses, and the local government to reach out to those on the peripheries.