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Haiti

      
Todd Van Beck's picture
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Throughout the history of the human experience catastrophes of Biblical proportions have occurred.  Millions of people, innocent, hard-working men, women and children, have been swallowed up by the seas, fallen into the earth, burned by fires, shattered by earthquakes, and of course (the most dangerous threat) killed in war.  From my study of world history this state of affairs has never stopped and given the recent natural disaster in Haiti it is clear that there are forces in nature that no matter how humankind deludes themselves in the thought that we can control everything, this idea of contol is just not true.  Never has been true, never will be true.

In my travels in the world, and I have been several places, I have noticed that most places people do not live in the manner or fashion of our great country, the United States of America. Everywhere I go I see that people are at one and the same time different and the same.  Other places just have a much different way of life, different and special customs, different and special holidays, different and unique attitudes, different ways of viewing the world, different ways of dealing with stress and problems, and different ways of dealing with the dead.

The United States of America is a truly blessed country, and we are without question, regardless of what the French say about us, the most generous nation on earth, and we will and do contribute, act, and help out when disasters happen across the globe.  Helping out it just seems in our national DNA.  We should always remember that when 100,000 Belgian children were starving to death after the First World War, it was an American, Herbert C. Hoover, who organized the food relief efforts and fed and saved hundreds upon thousands of helpless little children, and Mr. Hoover (another good Iowa farm boy) did the same thing after the Second World War.  The message is clear, if you are hungry America will send you food – no questions asked.  I am proud of that, makes me feel good as an American.  Helping out is the American way.

I know that when the earthquake struck that probably every funeral director on earth thought “What will they do with all the dead?”  

The media has posed this question but interestingly even the tough media people treat the care of the dead subject as taboo and issue warnings after warnings to the viewers that “this information might be uncomfortable for some viewers.”

However all in funeral service know the raw data realities of this situation.  There are thousands upon thousands of dead people, thousands of them everywhere.  We also know that given the lack of infrastructure of the county on even a good day, given the tropical location of the country, given the predictable decomposition rate in such a climate, and given the best laid efforts to help the living get help in a snarled airport space, the lack of organization, the lack of leadership, given all this and on top of all this is now the terrible post mortem reality of highly virulent diseases from the rapidly decomposing dead, the decision of rapid disposition seems to me not just wise, but in the face of the blunt reality of such overwhelming numbers it is the only course the country of Haiti could have taken, as sad and as sobering as that decision is.

However, we as Americans want to help out.  It is in our blood, and there are several outstanding mobile mortuary units from the USA and various countries who want to help, but as I understand the reports, have been told by the Haitian’s “thanks, but no thanks.”  For generous humans whose mission in life is to help, and to use their considerable expertise to identify, prepare, and carefully handle the dead, this response naturally would be disappointing.  That is understandable.  However it seems clear by now that time has gotten away.

Things seemed to be much more difficult and different this time in Haiti. In light of the mind boggling challenges, just to maintain daily life, just to save the dying people, just to get through another day, I can understand that somewhere the decision was made to have mass graves, to take care of the dead quickly before the dead themselves innocently contributed to the deaths of even more Haitians, which given the time span between the earthquake and today is a scary, true, horrifying reality.  If post mortem diseases get started, well, every embalmer on the face of the earth knows the health consequences of such prospects – and horrible prospects they are.

In a real way, I believe this small country is doing the best it can, and we and the world are helping as best as we can.  When it comes to caring for the dead or saving the living in Haiti by burying and or cremating the dead as quickly and as rapidly as possible, if the latter assists in a big way the saving of human life, I don’t know if a compelling argument can now be made to the contrary.  

I was e-mailed by a good buddy of mine that he was going over to Haiti with a well-known disaster management company, and I suspect they are, as usual, doing a yeoman’s job.  I was always impressed with that type of disaster management dedication.  The ticking of the clock means that life, all life, moves on, and in time Haiti will move on, and it appears she is trying to take baby steps to that end as I write.  

I suspect that over time the Haitian government and society will clearly mark the massive graves with impressive memorials and monument much like our country had to do with many military cemeteries that emerged from the Civil War, that the day of the earthquake will become a national day of remembrance, that the saga will be taught to children for generations, and that in the end no one will ever know how many and exactly who died in this mega catastrophe.  

For years to come, for generations after generations, this event will be memorialized in music, prose, poetry and in the collective consciousness of the world, until at some point in time somebody somewhere will find some obscure evidence that in the year 2010 a massive earthquake struck a place called Haiti, and that many people were killed and this person will think “Wonder where Haiti was?” This happens to me when I first I read of a volcano named Mount Vesuvius that on August 24, AD 79, covered the city of Pompeii completely.  I had never heard of the event in my life and I had to find an ancient map to locate where this natural catastrophe happened.

It is the way with history; many times impersonal, distant, aloof.   

My heart goes out to the people of Haiti and my hat goes off to the gravediggers in Haiti, the laborers in the vineyard who are performing their solemn but absolutely essential job.  Life leaves me baffled many times.

Anyway that is one old undertaker’s opinion.  TV

Haiti

Todd: Old news, but I don't remember if I shared my experiences from the Haiti deployment with you or not. This is definitely not the place to post reminiscences, but if interested I will send you some interesting observations. Happy 2012.
Bob in MO