General diary entries

THE CEMETERY ANGEL

I love the little discoveries that can be made when you get a quiet couple of hours.
I’ve had a busy couple of weeks, with a couple more until my next annual leave at the beginning of August.
The last two days, 12.5 hour shifts both days, have been incredibly busy, so today I am chillin’.
The sun is shining, the wine is chilling, the afternoon will be spent in the garden with a book.

Anyway, this morning’s discovery is an amazing lady called Ruth Coker Burks, who has the unusual nickname of ‘The Cemetery Angel’.

Image result for ruth coker burks

From Wikipedia and a few other blogs I’ve had a read through, this is what I discovered. I can tell you that her story brought me to tears!!

Ruth’s story started back in 1984 when she was visiting a friend in hospital. While there, she noticed a door that was sealed with red plastic and she noticed the nurses would pull straws to see who would go into the room to treat the patient. She discovered that this patient had GRID, or Gay Related Immune Deficiency, and what would later be known as AIDS. The nurses revealed that the patient had been there for weeks and had no visitors, so Ruth decided to meet the young man and discovered that he wanted to see his mother before he died.

Don’t cry…. don’t cry….. like I did reading about this!!

Anyway, Ruth contacted the young man’s mother who adamantly refused to see her son. She said he was a sinner and was already dead to her.
When Ruth went back to see the young man, he mistook her for his mother and Ruth didn’t have the heart to say otherwise, so she sat an held his hand and pretended to be his mother until he died 13 hours later.
She even arranged for a funeral home and a cremation for him when his family refused to claim his body. She then proceeded to spread his ashes on her own family’s plot.

After this encounter, Ruth continued to support others who needed help.
She would take them to appointments, help to obtain medications and also kept a supply of AIDS medications on hand as not all pharmacies would stock them. The word got out and she started to receive financial support from gay bars in Arkansas. Drag queens would do charity shows just to raise money for her to continue her work. During Clinton’s presidency, Burks was the White House consultant for AIDS education and when the patients she helped to look after started living past the national average life expectancy she caught the attention of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health who then sent researchers to investigate why.

Over the 30 years that she worked with them, Ruth cared for over 1000 AIDS victims and buried more than 40 of them at her own family’s plot when their families rejected them.

What an absolutely amazing achievement for a lifetime and that’s not even the sad part.
Get ready for this……..

How did history treat this amazing woman?

After social attitudes towards AIDS improved, Ruth settle in Florida and became a fishing guide and funeral director but in 2012 she suffered a stroke and she had to re-learn skills like feeding herself and how to talk. The stroke left her with memory loss and because health insurance would no longer cover her after her stroke, the decision was made to move back to Arkansas to be closer to her family.

In 2013, she advocated for three foster children who had been kicked out of school due to rumours that one might be HIV-positive and after she appeared on TV as an HIV advocate for the children, her community blackballed her!!
The funeral home she had previously worked at rescinded her standing job offer and other businesses refused to hire her.
Probably the most diabolical incident was when the local Walmart allegedly removed a chair she sat in after finding out she did work with HIV advocacy.

However, this still hasn’t stopped her.
In 2016, she was finally honoured at New York City’s Pride Week and she is currently working with others to create a memorial for victims of AIDS in Hot Springs with a plan to turn the Files Cemetery into a pilgrimage site for those affected by the AIDS crisis.
She continues to speak at various events and is currently working on writing a memoir of her life story which has sold to publishers and an, as yet untitled project’ about her is in development in hollywood.

What an incredible story!!
I for one, hope this makes it to film, because it is an astounding story of love and compassion and it is a story that needs to be told!

Categories: General diary entries

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