NY Times reporter Michael Wilson has done some great work tracking the stories of the poor suckers bilked out of hundreds of thousands of dollars by "psychic" scammers, but this week he's turned his attention to an even stranger occurrence: what happens when you find out that the deceased loved one who you just mourned and cremated was a totally different person?
The Times reports on the unlikely story of Val-Jean McDonald, a mother-of-eight who died from cancer on Dec. 18th at the age of 81. Her family, which includes "more than 20 grandchildren, almost as many great-grandchildren and three great-great-grandchildren," came from from Manhattan, New Jersey, Georgia, Texas and Australia to attend her open-casket funeral 11 days later in Harlem. Though some had questions about her appearance ("Why did they cut off all her hair?") and a few of the younger relatives said they didn't recognize their grandmother, they assumed any changes in appearance were because of the cancer. Overall, everything went about as smoothly as these things go.
Altogether, more than 100 people saw her during the visitation hour before the funeral. She was then cremated a day later at Woodlawn Cemetery.
But nearly a week after that, a manager from McCall's Bronxwood Funeral Home called to inform them that a terrible mix-up had occurred: the woman in the coffin wasn't McDonald after all, and they still had her body.
The revelation left Ms. McDonald’s family angry and incredulous, and asking themselves hard questions: How could so many people not have recognized that the woman in the coffin was not Ms. McDonald? How could her sons have convinced themselves, to a man, that this stranger was their mother?
And how could a funeral home make such a mistake?
Now the state's Division of Cemeteries and Bureau of Funeral Directing are both investigating the funeral home. A spokesperson for McCall's said they had spoken to the families affected "and acknowledged our deepest sorrows," but the owner, James H. Alston, sounded more concerned about their reputation. "I don’t have any comments to make with respect to any of this,” he told them. He added after seeing photos of the two women, "Looks like the same woman to me."
You can read the rest of the story, including the family member's reactions to finding out they had mourned the wrong person, here. Suffice it to say, this has convinced us that when we die, we'd prefer a muerto parado funeral, so there can be no mistaking us for anyone else.