Mom handed ‘son’s ashes’ though body not cremated
Never happened before, says funeral home
A CAPE Town mother is having to relive the grief of her son’s death after she discovered the ashes she received from a funeral home – with its slogan “dignified and professional” – are not his.
Dawn Welthagen, whose son Geoffrey, 40, died at the end of last month, received a packet of ashes from the Cape Funeral Fund on December 3. But three days later, she found his body in the Maitland morgue.
And then she had to identify the body for a second time.
The Cape Funeral Fund, asked to organise the cremation, however, says this was nothing more than a “simple mistake” and that the “consultant”, who was not in charge of the cremation, had taken the wrong ashes.
Welthagen, who lives at Langeberg Ridge, near Cape Gate, said on November 30, the morning after her son’s death, Clinton de Bryn arrived and introduced himself as being from the Cape Funeral Fund. He said he had found out about her son’s death from the Tygerberg morgue, where Geoffrey’s body had been taken.
Welthagen said she had asked if it was possible to receive the ashes by Friday, December 2, as she was planning a memorial service for that day, to be attended by her other son who was driving from Port Elizabeth. They planned to scatter the ashes together.
“He promised that I would have the death certificate and the ashes in my hands by 2pm on Friday. Well, 2pm came and went and I phoned him, but when he answered, in hushed tones, he said he was in a meeting and would phone me back in five minutes. Five minutes became half an hour and so I SMSED him, to which he never replied.”
When she finally got hold of him at 5.30pm that day, De Bryn had said he was “very tired”.
“I told him that the service was at 11am the next day, so he could get some sleep and drop the ashes off at 9.30am.”
However, De Bryn did not arrive and the memorial service was conducted without the ashes. He finally arrived late that afternoon, following several phone calls, with the ashes.
“My daughter and I opened the box of ashes and I was shocked when I saw the contents. My son was a huge, big guy and I couldn’t understand how his body could produce a little handful of ashes.”
Welthagen, who had also previously scattered her husband’s ashes, also expressed concern about the texture and colour of the ashes, which she said looked like finely milled cement powder.
Welthagen’s friend, Carol Olivier, later spoke to someone she knew in the undertaking business who asked if the box of ashes had been labelled with either a name or identification number, and whether a cremation certificate had been received. The box was unlabelled and there was no certificate.
Welthagen and Olivier then tried to find out where Geoffrey had been cremated. The consultant said he had been cremated in Paarl, but there was no record of him at the crematorium.
On Tuesday, Geoffrey’s body was delivered to the Maitland crematorium. The paperwork accompanying the body, was signed, apparently by Dawn Welthagen, and a commissioner of oaths.
Welthagen says the signature is not hers, and it is not the same paperwork she faxed before receiving the original ashes.
She has opened a case of fraud against the funeral home.
Welthagen had to then identify her son’s body for the second time.
“My son from Port Elizabeth was never able to make it to Cape Town, so we never sprinkled the ashes. Now I have a body and ashes,” she said.
“It was horrible. What really angered me is, if these are human ashes, whose are they?
“I am feeling so absolutely crushed about this whole sick experience. Surely other people are going to question where their loved one’s ashes are. I have got my son’s body and eventually I will have his ashes, but what about the person these belong to?”
The funeral home said they had been trying to contact Welthagen, but she says she has been too angry to take their calls.
In an e-mailed statement to Weekend Argus, the company’s spokesman, Jacob Petersen, said “the company was not aware that the family were issued with the wrong ashes”.
“The consultant acted independently in this regard. A letter of apology has been sent to Mrs Welthagen asking for an appointment and explaining what had occurred and what steps have since been taken. The consultant has since been suspended until further notice and a disciplinary hearing will be conducted in the next week.”
He said that Welthagen’s signature had not been forged, but that they had signed the paperwork “on her behalf ”.
The company did not answer specific questions about whose ashes Welthagen had originally received.
“According to our company policies and procedures, when consultants do act in their own right, the company cannot be held responsible for their actions. In our 26 years of service, this has never happened before.”
Police spokesman Captain FC Van Wyk confirmed that a fraud case had been opened but said the investigation was “at a sensitive stage” and he could not give more details.
WRONG ASHES: Dawn Welthagen holds the packet of ashes she received from the Cape Funeral Fund despite the fact that her son has still not been cremated.
GONE: Geoffrey Welthagen, who died last month.