Rosenblum: Financial worries worsen her grief

  • Article by: GAIL ROSENBLUM , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 1, 2012 - 10:26 PM
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Hannah Craft

As Lakeisha Craft grieved the loss last week of her 16-year-old daughter, Hannah, she faced another cruel reality that many of us may never have to consider:

How would she pay for Hannah's funeral?

Hannah, who would have turned 17 on Dec. 10, was struck and killed by a car as she crossed Hwy. 10 in Anoka in the dark on Monday. She had just left the McDonald's, where she worked 15 to 20 hours a week, after learning that she was not on the schedule for that night.

Craft, the 35-year-old mother of eight children, works three jobs to make ends meet. Two years ago, she lost her Columbia Heights home to foreclosure. She and her husband, Leslie Smith, who works in sales, now rent a four-bedroom home a few blocks from her previous residence.

While most counties, including Anoka, offer financial assistance to those without means to cover funeral costs, the amount granted typically ranges from $2,000 to $2,500, about one-fourth of what an average funeral costs today.

Those funds cannot be supplemented with personal funds. That means the family must find a funeral director willing to carry considerable costs.

That's why Craft calls Jeff Hunt her "angel." Hunt, a funeral director at Billman-Hunt Funeral Home, has softened a terrible week for Craft by removing this particular burden.

"We're working with the family and giving them our services to try to make a very difficult period in their lives a little less stressful," Hunt said Friday. "If and when any resources do come through, we'll sit down and talk about that."

Hunt's generosity will be welcome news to Margaret McAbee, whose Twin Cities-based nonprofit, Survivor Resources, offers emotional support and practical help to families who have lost a loved one through homicide, suicide or an accident.

McAbee has counseled families, including the Crafts, who find themselves "between a rock and a hard place. When someone is killed suddenly," McAbee said, "there is no time to prepare, plan, save."

Crime victims' funds likely won't apply here, McAbee said (the driver did stop), and the family's chances for county help became even slimmer due to the potential for an insurance settlement down the road.

But what parent should be made to wait weeks, or sometimes months, to bury a child? Craft, seated at her kitchen table with a Christmas tree decorating the family's modest living room, smiles as she talks about Hunt's kindness. But she reverts back quickly to the "nightmare" that has been her life since she received the dreaded phone call around 9 p.m. Monday.

After learning she wasn't working, Hannah hung around the McDonald's for a while, had something to eat, texted and called friends.

Then she stepped onto the busy highway.

"She'd been talking about a job forever," Craft said of Hannah, a junior at Centennial District's Pines School in Lino Lakes. "She was saving up to pay for driver's ed."

But Hannah loved to earn money for far more selfless reasons. For Craft's birthday last year, Hannah bought her an iPod Touch with money she earned washing dishes at a neighbor's house, cutting grass and dog-walking. Last weekend, she used part of her McDonald's paycheck to take many of her siblings out for a meal. "She wanted to take care of them," her mom said.

Craft moved her family from Detroit to Minneapolis in 1998 "to gain some responsibility. It was time to grow up," she said.

Craft works a seasonal job at Ridgedale Mall, as well as doing events planning and dispatching for a cab company.

As someone who was a teenage mom, Craft is raising her children to make different choices. "If you don't do anything else," she tells them, "finish school and don't have kids when you're young."

She loved that Hannah, her highly responsible second child, dreamed big. "I want to see the world and I've found out how to do it for free," she told her mom recently. "She said, 'I'm going to school to be a flight attendant.' When she told me that, I was really, really happy," Craft said. "She actually was thinking about her life past high school." Still, as Hannah worked to find herself, she was butting heads with Mom more and more. But this past Thanksgiving was a perfect day, Craft said. Hannah was so helpful that Craft found it amusing. She kept finding more chores for Hannah to do, telling her, "Well, since you're being so agreeable ..."

Hannah helped her cook, cut vegetables and clean the kitchen throughout the day. Craft posted on Facebook, "'I'm cooking Thanksgiving dinner with my 17-year-old!' We hadn't had a day like that in so long.

"Who knew that would be my last perfect day with my daughter?"

Hannah's funeral will be held at 10 a.m. Monday at Shiloh Temple in north Minneapolis. She will be buried at Gethsemane Cemetery in New Hope. Donations to help the family with expenses may be made at any TCF branch in memory of Hannah Craft.

gail.rosenblum@startribune.com 612-673-7350

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