Mom handed ‘son’s ashes’ though body not cre­mated

Never hap­pened be­fore, says funeral home

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - BIANCA CA­PA­ZO­RIO

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.

bianca.ca­pa­zo­rio@inl.co.za

PIC­TURE: ROSS JANSEN

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.

PIC­TURE: SUPPLIED

GONE: Geoffrey Weltha­gen, who died last month.

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