Mystery of the ‘missing’ ashes — grieving family wants answers | CBC News

A Newfoundland woman has filed a complaint against a local funeral home after what are supposedly her late husband’s ashes were returned in an urn labelled “Mom.” 

Sandy Barter of Corner Brook, N.L., says what are supposedly some of her late husband’s ashes were returned by a local funeral home in an urn labelled ‘Mom.’ (Submitted by Sandy Barter)

A Newfoundland woman has filed a complaint against a local funeral home after what are supposedly her late husband’s ashes were returned in an urn labelled “Mom.” 

The urn, one of several that were to be distributed among family members, was also engraved with someone else’s date of birth and death. 

Sandy Barter of Corner Brook, N.L., says she thinks Country Haven Funeral Home made an “honest mistake.” 

But because the home has denied any responsibility — and denies even having handled the urn — she’s complained to the provincial regulator. 

“I’m really disappointed that it came to this,” she told CBC News. “Country Haven just had to take that urn back, and give me the proper urn with Doug’s ashes, and everything would have been fine.”

After Doug Barter died, at age 52, in June, Sandy and her sister-in-law, Lynn Barter, bought some urns at a local store, Things Engraved.

Doug Barter, left, and his nephew, Alexander Bastow. The engraved urn was meant for Alexander. (Submitted)

Lynn had one engraved for her son, Alexander. It said either “Doug” or “Uncle Doug” — she can’t remember exactly — but she’s sure it was done correctly.

“My husband I waited for them to engrave it. We both checked it. It was fine,” she said.

“[The store] said their process was always to check, have the person make sure that the engraving was accurate, before they took the item out of the store.”

The funeral home later gave the urns, filled with ashes, to Sandy. She says the engraved one stayed in a bag, untouched, until another family member delivered it to Alexander, who lives in St. John’s, in September. 

Assuming a simple mix-up had occurred, Lynn texted a photo of the urn to Country Haven so they could fix the mistake.

The birth and death dates on the urn match those of Marie Newman, whose funeral was also handled by Country Haven, according to her obituary on the funeral home’s website. (Submitted)

“And they didn’t apologize, and they didn’t accept any responsibility,” she said.

The funeral home denied having handled the urn, she said. 

“Why would we make this up?” said Lynn.

“What motivation would we have to make up something that is just outlandish?”

Newman’s daughter, Cathy Anderson, says she was upset by the uncertainty over her mother’s ashes. (CBC)

Finding ‘mom’

It didn’t take long to figure out whose urn it might be.

A quick internet search led to Marie Newman, whose birth and death dates matched those on the urn, and whose funeral and cremation had also been handled by Country Haven.

After Newman died in February 2018, her remains were cremated and interred at Mount Patricia Cemetery that June, according to her daughter, Cathy Anderson. 

If it’s mom in that urn, I’d like to have her.- Cathy Anderson

Anderson says she was distressed by the call from Sandy. The families suspect both the urns and ashes were misplaced which, for Anderson, has reopened wounds that were just beginning to heal. 

“If it’s mom in that urn, I’d like to have her. We buried mom … and then all of a sudden she’s out there somewhere with strangers,” said Anderson.

“It’s hard every day to deal with a death, and we were so close to our mom and then, to find out that she’s somewhere else, is just heartbreaking. How did this happen?”

The owner of Country Haven Funeral Home says he disputes the Barter family’s ‘version of events,’ but would not agree to an interview. (Troy Turner/CBC)

Under investigation

Country Haven Funeral Home owner and operator Dwayne Parsons declined interview requests from CBC News.

But in an email, Parsons wrote: “The most I would say is that I dispute the version of events as presented, but given that the matter has now been brought to the board, Country Haven will not be making any comment at this time.”

The Embalmers and Funeral Directors Board of Newfoundland and Labrador, confirmed that a complaint has been made, but won’t comment while it is under investigation.

Another urn, containing some of her husband’s cremated remains, rests in Sandy’s living room. (Bernice Hillier/CBC)

Board administrator and registrar Bert Twyne said the home could face disciplinary action if any regulations have been violated. 

Sandy says she’s hoping to find closure, once the investigation is complete.

“I don’t even really feel like I’ve had time to properly grieve,” she said.

“I paid them a lot of money, and I entrusted them with my husband’s remains, and some of my husband’s remains are missing.”

Sandy says she hasn’t had time to ‘properly grieve’ because of the confusion. (Troy Turner/CBC)

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