By Wendy Widom
CHICAGO (CBS) — A Chicago Heights woman who has spent years fighting for others with disabilities has one last wish before late-stage cancer takes her life: to spend eternity buried alongside her loved ones instead of being cremated.
The problem is, advocates for the woman say, she cannot afford the more expensive option of having a casket and a burial. They’re identifying her by her first name, Stephanie.
“Stephanie’s battle with cancer is nearing the end. Her final dream is to be buried with her beloved mother rather than being cremated,” posts the GoFundMe page’s organizer, Leanne Roth.
Roth, an organizational coordinator at the Illinois Self Advocacy Alliance, says Stephanie’s disabilities may be why she lacks the life insurance that could cover burial expenses. People with disabilities “have to fight for everything,” Roth says.
“Stephanie has dedicated her life to advocating for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities like herself,” says Carli Friedman, a PhD student in disability studies at the University of Illinois Chicago, in an email to CBS2. “Unfortunately as Stephanie lives in a group home, has little money, and no insurance she will be cremated” unless she or others can pay for her burial.
According to Illinois Department of Human Services, “When a qualified disability case member under the care of IDHS passes away, most friends and relatives can be reimbursed by IDHS up to $1,103 in funeral expenses OR $552 in cremation or burial services. However, the person seeking reimbursement cannot be the spouse of the deceased or the legal parent or guardian of a deceased minor child. Spouses and parents are legally responsible for those expenses.”
Roth believes Stephanie’s advocacy work for members of the disabled community has changed lives. “She inspires the people she works with. She gives hope to people with disabilities.” About Stephanie’s wish to not be cremated Roth says, “She deserves better.”
Donations through the GoFundMe page will be applied to Stephanie’s funeral and burial expenses. Additional funds collected will go towards the purchase of a headstone, organizers say.