Dec. 15, 2014
How do I even begin to thank this incredible and generous community? Words cannot express what's in my heart, but I will try.
Earlier this month, six of our students lost their mother when she collapsed suddenly while cooking dinner. In addition to the shock and devastation of her current family, another life was profoundly impacted: The mother was six months pregnant, and her 2.5-pound premature baby-miraculously-has defied the odds for survival in the intensive care unit. The family is Burmese, only nine months in the U.S., with no money for funeral expenses let alone medical and day-to-day costs as the father has had to shift focus from his job to taking care of his children. I vividly recall the family's panic as the hospital called wondering what to do with the mother's body even as funeral homes were quoting a price in the tens of thousands of dollars for a basic service.
But like true angels, the people in the Tukwila school community stepped up. First, the Burmese and faith organizations stood vigil with the family, offering food, prayer, and support. Our district's own Burmese liaison and high-school counselor-Ohnmar and Laura Linde, respectively-figuratively and literally navigated the medical obstacles, making countless inquiries and driving the family to and from the hospital. And once the call went out for assistance, it was unbelievable how people opened their hearts and pocketbooks: Not only staff in our schools, not only neighbors in Tukwila, but people from far and wide in the Puget Sound gave. The money that has been raised is significant, but so are the acts of kindness. One community member has offered professional childcare; another has signed on to walk the youngest children to and from school each day. Several organizations are holding gift drives to make sure the season is just a little brighter for the children.
I need to give special recognition to the people at the local Bonney-Watson Funeral Home. From my first conversation with Managing Director Mark Owsley, it was clear that this was a man of deep compassion; he spent many hours with me clearing bureaucratic obstacles for the family with grace and style. Ultimately, Bonney-Watson contributed the casket, flowers, and all of the other services. Director of Grief and Community Resources Barbara Gilreath was there to support the emotional needs of the family. Furthermore, they did it with utmost cultural sensitivity. If you think it is difficult for U.S.-born citizens to know the etiquette, procedures, and scope for a funeral and memorial, it is almost incomprehensible for a refugee. (This is such valuable information that I am going to work with the people at Bonney-Watson after winter break to hold a life-planning information session for all of our community members.)
THANK YOU. What you may not understand is that because of your generosity, this family and its new baby can stay together-united, cared for, and educated-in Tukwila. We cannot take away the heartache, but we can make sure that their needs are met and they can focus on the task of healing rather than surviving. Your support has not gone unnoticed; the family says they have been wrapped in care, and it has made all the difference. They are greatly, humbly appreciative, and they feel a renewed sense of home here.
I have heard and experienced over and over again that Tukwila is a community that cares. This holiday season, disregard the headlines about high crime rates and poverty related to cities that are marginalized. We in Tukwila know the truth: We create moments where humanity and hope prevail. Isn't this what we are born to do? Isn't this why we were created? I have never experienced a more loving, caring community that rises to every occasion and believes in the ability of every child.
Perhaps it's all of the other communities that need to learn from our greatness.
-Dr. Nancy Coogan