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‘Daddy, that’s not grandma’: Funeral home mix-up results in wrong woman being cremated

Two families were devastated after a funeral home mixed up their relatives — a mistake that resulted in one woman being cremated and another being buried by the wrong family. (Stock image)

It was an idea so far-fetched, so painfully uncomfortable and profane, that many couldn’t even entertain the notion.

And yet, as Val-Jean McDonald — an 82-year-old mother of eight — lay in her coffin, her funeral unfolding around her, some family members sensed something wasn’t quite right, according to a blockbuster New York Times article published Tuesday.

A child would eventually point out what most adults couldn’t see or simply refused to acknowledge.

“My 10-year-old son said, ‘Daddy, that’s not Grandma,'” Errol McDonald, one of the deceased woman’s sons, told the Times.

“I said, ‘Yes, that’s what happens,'” he added, explaining that people’s bodies can look different after they’ve died.

Val-Jean McDonald’s body was cremated the next day, on Dec. 30. Days later, another of McDonald’s sons got a call from the Bronx funeral home that handled the arrangements, according to WABC.

What she said, Richard McDonald told the Times, was hard to fathom.

“She says, ‘That body was not your mother,'” McDonald recalled. ‘”Your mother is still here.'”

The Times reported that the family was left in shock both by the funeral home’s incompetence, as well as their own collective inability to realize during the funeral and subsequent burial that the woman inside the coffin was not their beloved mother who had lost her battle with cancer.

Overcome with grief and with tears in their eyes, relatives said they were tricked by fact that the body in the coffin was wearing their mother’s clothing and jewelry.

“We didn’t really, truly say goodbye to our mom like we wanted to,” Leroy McDonald told WABC. “She didn’t deserve that.”

The mistake was made all the worse because it affected not just one family, but two.

An hour before 50 people arrived for his mother’s funeral service, Donald Little was told by a manager at the same funeral home that they were going to have to move forward with a closed casket, according to a subsequent Times story detailing the debacle.

The reason, Little was shocked to learn, was that his recently deceased mother — Annie Pearl Little — had been accidentally cremated.

Little told the Times that the manager informed him the mix-up occurred because his mother and Val-Jean McDonald looked alike.

Unlike the McDonalds, who eventually held a private viewing and cremation with the proper body, Annie Pearl Little’s body was already gone, according to the Times.

“My family doesn’t believe in cremation,” her son told the newspaper.

“She’s dressed up and paraded around in other people’s clothes and jewelry,” he added. “People kissing her and taking pictures. It’s heartbreaking I couldn’t do that.”

George Arzt, a spokesman for McCall’s Bronxwood Funeral Home, told WABC that the staff had been in touch with both the families affected.

“We have expressed to the affected families our acute distress and sorrow over this occurrence, and we are reimbursing the McDonalds for all costs associated with the funeral,” he said.

James H. Alston, the funeral home’s owner, told the Times that McCall’s Bronxwood has been in business for a half-century and has “a stellar record. We have a stellar reputation in this community. We’re known for our care, compassion, professionalism, the quality of our work.”

Arzt told the Times that the funeral home is keeping Little’s remains until her son authorizes a burial.

McCall’s Bronxwood Funeral Home did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Post.

Little’s lawyer, Robert Di Gianni, told the newapaper that his client plans to sue McCall’s for breaching his right to choose cremation for his mother.

For his part, Little said he’s visited a therapist multiple times since the incident because he’s been unable to sleep.

“I’ve been having bad dreams about her being burned up,” he told the Times.

A spokesman from the New York Division of Cemeteries said the incident is under investigation; the state’s Bureau of Funeral Directing is also investigating

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