A Kind Soul


It’s been well over 5 years now since Afshin died. I was working my dream job at the time. I was the human resources / training supervisor for a prestigious American research firm that worked projects not only across the country but also internationally. I supervised over 50 employees.
 
There are many people and moments during the course of my time working my dream job that stick out, and one of them is Afshin. We will use his first name to respect the privacy of the deceased.
 
I remember Afshin as a good worker, but even more importantly, as an amazing human being. He was one of those people that when they pass, you wish you had the opportunity to have more conversations with them. They just brought so much joy and life to those around them and had so much to give.
 
In fact, I remember Afshin’s work as exceptional. He had even been offered a management position, and turned it down. He said that he preferred to remain in the job he was doing. We were always hopeful that he would change his mind about the management position, but he never did.
 
Afshin was highly educated with an engineering degree, yet he stayed in an entry level position at a research firm. I remember in some of my conversations with Afshin learning that he was brought to the USA by his parents from a very young age. Unfortunately, I do not remember what country they immigrated from, just that it was a war-torn country and they had come here for a better life. Afshin said both of his immigrant parents worked hard and sacrificed so that he could get his engineering degree from an Ivy League school.
 
Both of his parents had already passed away by the time he started working for us. The rest of his family in their home country had been killed. Some of the family members were confirmed dead. Others were presumed dead, as he was never able to locate any living family members. Afshin was truly alone in the world.
 
He had many friends at work. Everyone loved Afshin. We always made sure he had invitations for holidays.  People enjoyed spending time with Afshin. He was just a great guy.
 
So it was extremely unusual when Afshin did not show up for work two days in a row. No one could get ahold of him. This was not normal. 
 
The day that Afshin died, he had been out to a movie with a friend from work. The friend remembers they talked for a little bit after the movie, then went home.
 
Afshin lived in an apartment alone and did not show up for work for two days. We contacted police to do a wellness check. Afshin was found dead and alone in his apartment.
 
The coroner determined that there was no foul play involved in his death. However, there are questions as to whether it was intentional or accidental. As a friend who valued Afshin, I like to think it was accidental. As someone with experience performing psychological autopsies, I’m afraid it looks intentional.
 
Whether accidental or intentional, his death was a horrible tragedy. There was not a single employee in our company who Afshin did not touch in a positive way. The entire organization was in grieving.
 
As Afshin had no family and no will, his body became a “Ward of the State” in New York State. This means that the Adult Protective Office was responsible for his corpse and in charge of his remains. 
 
Did Afshin want to be buried? Did Afshin want to be cremated? No one knew. As a Ward of the State, it did not matter. His life, death, and corpse became just another piece of paper that some bureaucrat in the Adult Protective Office pushed across their desk.
 
Do you know what happens when a corpse becomes a Ward of the State and the Adult Protective Office is declared the guardian? 
 
I will tell you.
 
First off, heaven forbid you have any friends that care about you. Friends have zero legal standing when you have no will and no family. The State does not care. You are just a dead body they don’t want and are now responsible for disposing.
 
As his employer, we fought for information about Afshin’s corpse and what would happen to him. First off, how many employers would fight for a dead employee like that? We did. We cared.
 
Deceased Wards of the State are buried in an open field. There is no funeral, no graveside service. There is no stone or grave marker. The deceased body Is quite literally given latitude and longitude coordinates of where it is buried. That is it. These latitude and longitude coordinates are marked in a file. The file is placed in a drawer for 7 years. After 7 years, the file is shredded. You are gone, dead and buried with no grave marker and not even a human that knows the latitude and longitude coordinates of where your body is located.
 
We fought tooth and nail to get those latitude and longitude coordinates disclosed to us. Would the Adult Protective Office let us know when they planned the burial so we could have a small group stand there with respect and offer prayers? No. They refused to release that information. Graves are dug at night and never announced. The Adult Protective Office does not want anyone there. They don’t want anyone to know they are burying some poor person who died with no family, no will, and no money.
 
We were able to obtain the latitude and longitude coordinates of where Afshin was buried after he was buried there. Of course, that’s assuming he actually is buried there. They could have just provided us with random coordinates. Maybe they provide the same set of coordinates to any friend of a deceased person who inquires. 
 
Once provided the coordinates, of course we visited. It took a GPS to find the location. There was no marker. It was just an open field. Families could have picnics there. Children could play tag. No one would know they were playing on a mass grave site of poor people who have been buried as Wards of the State.
 
My employer paid for a marker for Afshin. We had to go through several hoops to have a marker placed at his coordinates. The marker was so small, we could only put his name. There was not enough room for dates. We were allowed a small phrase. The phrase we chose was “A Kind Soul.” There is a small marker with his name that says “A Kind Soul” and nothing else. That is all that remains of Afshin. 
 
I have a feeling that the only reason at all why we were able to get coordinates and other information we did from Adult Protective Office was because we were the employer. Also, this happened in a relatively small city, where you could get people to show some compassion in certain situations. I’m sure if this had happened in a much larger city, we would not have gotten the coordinates or any other information we did.
 
Both Afshin’s life and his death is something that I’m sure will stay with me for a very long time. I have never before known someone whose corpse became a Ward of the State under the supervision of Adult Protective Office. 
 
Afshin should be remembered for his life. He was A Kind Soul. He was an amazing person. His death was a tragedy. The way his corpse was treated as a Ward of the State was horrific. There has got to be a better way to honor the dead than burying them unmarked with just a latitude and longitude coordinate to mark the body. 
 
I’m not sure what the answer is here. I just know that Afshin deserved better.
 
To be completely honest, I do not want a death like Afshin’s. I want to matter. I want someone to care. For the record, we cared. We were his coworkers. We were his friends. It was just a challenge that as friends, we felt completely helpless when he died because we had no legal ground to be able to have a service or handle any arrangements. The last thing anyone wants in death is to become a Ward of the State. 
 
Afshin was a kind soul, and he was my friend.  

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