A woman has said a shocking mix-up meant that the body in the casket at her mother’s funeral wasn’t her mother at all, but a complete stranger.
“Everybody in that room thought they were saying goodbye to my mum, and it’s not her,” Dianne De Jager, from Adelaide, said of the distressing experience on Monday night’s A Current Affair.
To make matters worse, the grieving daughter claimed the funeral director asked her to carry on with the service regardless.
“It made me feel sick. It made me I didn’t want to be there.”
The funeral of Margaret Locke was due to take place on August 1 at the Enfield Memorial Park in the city’s north.
Around 100 people crowded in to pay their last respects to Ms Locke, who had four children and a flock of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
But when Ms De Jager took one final look inside the casket she realised a horror error had been made.
“That’s not my mum,” she told the funeral director.
“He said, ‘that’s definitely Margaret, she was tagged as Margaret’, and I said, ‘this is not my mum’,”
It was only when she found a recent photo of her late mother and showed it to the director that he relented.
“I zoomed the face in and I put it next to the lady in that coffin and I said, ‘that is not my mum’”.
But rather than stop the service while the mix up was investigated, the funeral director suggested they carry on regardless.
“It made me feel sick. It made me I didn’t want to be there.
“How can you say goodbye to you mum when it’s not her?
“None of that eulogy really sunk in, or hit me because I wasn’t really listening properly, I wasn’t there. It just made me feel so empty and blank,” she said.
President of the Australian Funeral Directors Association Adrian Barrett said a number of measures are taken to ensure the person in the casket is the person being mourned.
This included various tags and checks done each time the body is moved.
If there is any doubt, the funeral shouldn’t go ahead.
“The first thing that would need to happen would be that the funeral service should be stopped,” said Mr Barret.
“The person whose funeral it’s supposed to be isn’t at the funeral.
“We also have a person whose funeral it’s not supposed to be at the funeral.”
In a statement to A Current Affair, Clarke Family Funerals said it has presided over 2000 funerals since it was set up in 2006 but admitted to its “mistake” with Ms Locke.
“We have always striven to provide beautiful and respectful funerals that offer a lasting tribute but on Monday we fell well short of our own high standards.
“This situation is deeply regrettable and we continue to offer our sincerest apologies to the family.”
It said carrying on with the service was also an error.
“This decision was made under the stress of the situation and on reflection we should have sought a different outcome.”
Following the service Ms Locke was located and the funeral home said the correct cremation took place with the De Jager family presented with her ashes.
Ms De Jager said all she could do during the service – with someone other than her mother in the coffin – was to make the best of a terrible situation.
“So I said goodbye to this lady, I said ‘rest in peace’ and ‘I hope you find your family’”.