When a Bronx family attended an open-casket funeral for their beloved grandmother, it was only the grandchildren who noticed something was wrong, saying, “That doesn’t look like grandma.”
It was only after the funeral that the family discovered a funeral home mix-up had put the wrong body in the casket.
Reportedly, Val-Jean McDonald, 81, died back on December 18, and 11 days later, her eight sons, from Manhattan, New Jersey, Georgia, Texas, and Australia, and more than 20 grandchildren along with extended family and friends attended the funeral at the Harlem Union Baptist Church.
— ABC 7 Chicago (@ABC7Chicago) March 22, 2016
It was McCall’s Bronxwood Funeral Home that embalmed and prepared McDonald’s body for the open casket viewing. However, while the body in the casket was wearing the McDonald family matriarch’s favorite pink blouse and white suit and her finest jewelry, the grandchildren felt that something seemed a little off. The lady’s son, Errol McDonald, 57, told ABC 7 that Val-Jean’s 10-year-old grandson said, “That doesn’t look like grandma.”
While the grandson thought it was the wrong body in the casket, Errol said he told the boy, “Yes, that’s what happens,” explaining that people can look different in death. Later, Errol did recall thinking, “Why did they cut off all her hair? Maybe it’s the cancer.”
The 81-year-old grandmother had suffered through a long battle with cancer and the family rationalized the embalming process would likely have altered her appearance. They also said they were grieving, and said their eyes were full of tears.
On top of that, the woman in the casket reportedly had a “remarkable likeness” to Val-Jean, so the funeral went ahead. The next day the wrong body, thought to be Val-Jean McDonald, was cremated at Woodlawn Cemetery.
According to Errol’s brother, Leroy, a 6-year-old granddaughter had also thought the woman in the casket was not her grandmother, so it was two of the grandchildren that had spotted something was wrong.
— NYT Metro Desk (@NYTMetro) March 21, 2016
However, they only found out the kids’ hunches were correct five days later, when the funeral home called them to report the mix-up. The home admitted they had put the wrong body in the casket and that Val-Jean’s body was still there at the funeral home.
The woman who had been in the casket, seen by so many people and kissed by her sons, was not Val-Jean McDonald at all. The family was angry and incredulous that they had not realized it was the wrong woman in the casket all along.
Another of the lady’s sons, Leroy McDonald, said, “We didn’t really truly say goodbye to our mom like we wanted to,” adding, “She didn’t deserve that.”
According to the New York Times, after that the family had to schedule another brief viewing of their mother’s body, followed by yet another cremation. Reportedly, the McDonald family has since been reimbursed for the funeral expenses after the wrong body was cremated.
Reportedly, the funeral home is now under investigation by the state’s Bureau of Funeral Directing after the critical mix-up of the two bodies and the grief caused to the two families.
— KTLA (@KTLA) March 22, 2016
George Arzt, a spokesman for the McCall’s Bronxwood Funeral Home, said in a statement, “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.”
Reportedly, the identity of the woman who had been wrongly placed in McDonald’s casket has not been released, but the funeral home did say the other family was also not charged for the cost of the funeral and cremation.