With Help From The Community

“You just don’t have the money,” Alicia told their tears. Yes, their tears, because they each fell out of the conversation when they heard that they didn’t have the money to arrange a funeral for their loved one. It happened in slow motion for her, slow enough that she could watch the color leave their faces, watch their breaths catch in their throats, watch the gears in their head come to a grinding halt as they processed what she told them. She wondered what she was to them, if they saw her as a monster keeping them from mourning. She wondered if they heard the sympathy in her voice, or if they brushed it aside under the assumption that she was doing it for good customer service.

She frowned. She couldn’t meet their eyes. Not the old woman, who was dabbing her eyes with a handkerchief and trying her hardest not to sob. Not Mr. Ashworth, who was patting the old woman’s back and mouthing things to himself. And certainly not Mrs. Ashworth, who was staring at the wall in disbelief with quiet tears drawing rivers on her cheeks.

Alicia was going to speak up, to say something encouraging, but Mr. Ashwood turned to his wife and muttered, “We may need to take out a second mortgage.”

Mrs. Ashwood’s lips quivered. Fresh tears drew new tracks on her cheeks.

Alicia reconsidered her words. Encouragement would mean nothing to them. They needed options. With a glance around her office, she found a long shot of a solution in the back of her mind. She figured it wasn’t too uncommon for families to set up a funeral fund, though the amount of memorial donations they would receive wasn’t something that could accurately be guessed. “Um, if I may,” she started, only getting Mr. Ashwood’s attention, “you could try crowdfunding to get the money you need.”

When she explained crowdfunding for funeral expenses to them and gave them ideas on how to make it work for them, it was like they had seen the light.

The funeral home Alicia worked in was in the same town the Ashwood family lived in, a town small enough to be intimate but large enough that not everyone knew everyone else. Alicia assumed that was the reason why she didn’t know the family by reputation when apparently so many others did.

It was one of the workers at the coffee shop who told her about the family the next day. She had ordered a small coffee, and when she got her drink, it was accompanied by a slip of paper. The Ashwood Funeral Fund, it read, along with a goal of nine thousand dollars, the family’s contact info, and a URL to what she assumed was a crowdfunding site. She stayed at the counter, looking the slip of paper over a few times before the cashier told her, “Lucas’ father died,” with the familiarity of an old friend.

Lucas. She vaguely remembered that as Mr. Ashwood’s first name. “They’ve asked you to hand this out with purchases?” she asked.

He shrugged. “Yeah. They’re good friends of the business. I’m sure they’ll get all the memorial donations they need in no time flat.”

The certainty in his voice convinced her, at least for a moment, that the Ashwoods were good people, and she considered how much she could donate herself. “You think so?”

“Mm-hmm.” He looked out the shop’s front windows for any sign of incoming customers. When he saw that no one was coming, he leaned over the counter, elbows on the butcher-block surface, and propped up his chin with his fists. “They give a lot to the community. Especially on Thanksgiving, so everyone’ll be willing to give back.”

She took a sip of her coffee and read the piece of paper again. She decided to visit that website as soon as she could, and she did, a few hours later during her lunch break.

It wasn’t even one o’clock, and somehow the Ashwood family had gotten a few hundred shares on social media sites and had achieved half of their goal. Alicia smiled. She had to admit; she didn’t think crowdfunding for funeral expenses could be so successful so quickly.