Daughter says funeral home took mother's body without permission

Arbor Memorial, which owns Atlantic Funeral Home, has apologized and is working toward resolving the family's concern, a spokesperson said.

Woman called to inquire about services but says she didn't authorize company to take any further action

Atlantic Funeral Home on Main Street in Dartmouth told Laura Scrimshaw that they believe there was a misunderstanding about having authorization to pick up her mother's body. (Steve Berry/CBC)

Laura Scrimshaw hasn't had time to grieve her mother's death.

She's been too busy trying to locate her parent's remains and personal effects after they were collected — without the family's authorization — by a funeral home from the hospital where she died.

"I was aghast. I was shocked. I didn't understand how this was possible," Scrimshaw told CBC News from her home in New Boston, N.H.

She had only been back in the United States for two days after a visit with her hospitalized mother in Nova Scotia when she received the call Tuesday afternoon that everyone dreads, telling her that her mother had died.

'High-pressure sales tactics'

On Wednesday morning, Scrimshaw started calling Halifax-area funeral homes, starting with Atlantic Funeral Home on Main Street in Dartmouth.

"I began to ask about what services they offered. I asked about price, although I didn't get an answer. I asked about transportation of the remains, things like that," she said.

"I didn't feel really good about the answers that I got. I didn't feel good about the high-pressure sales tactics, so I ended that call."

Laura Scrimshaw's mother died Tuesday at the Dartmouth General Hospital. (Steve Berry/CBC )

During the conversation, Scrimshaw did give her mother's name and said she had died at the Dartmouth General Hospital. The woman also gave the funeral home her email address so it could forward pricing information.

"I said that I would phone them later on when I had some sense of what it was that I wanted to do," she said.

Big shock

Following the call, Scrimshaw contacted another funeral home. She said she felt more comfortable with the way they treated her so she immediately made arrangements for her mother and paid the bill.

Her uncle went to the hospital to pick up her mother's personal possessions, including her purse, her wallet, her private correspondence, her clothing and her jewelry. It was then the family got a big shock.

"He was told that it was no longer there and that my mother's remains were no longer there either." 

Instead, the uncle was told Atlantic Funeral Home had come by and picked up her mother's remains as well as all of her private effects, including her purse and her money.

Scrimshaw and her uncle were bewildered. She thought perhaps her mother had made pre-arrangements with Atlantic Funeral Home "because there was no other explanation."

When she called Atlantic Funeral Home, she said she was prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt that there had been some confusion. But she quickly decided that was not the case.

No permission to collect body

"It became incredibly clear that they were completely unrepentant for the mistake," Scrimshaw said.

She said she reiterated that she did not give them permission to do what they had done and she did not want them to take care of the arrangements.

"I pointed out that phoning and making inquiries about cost — which they never did even share with me — is far from permission for action and I asked them to immediately transport the body to the location that I wanted, along with all of her effects," she said.

After that call, she received an email from the funeral home with pricing details.

The hospital told Laura Scrimshaw that Atlantic Funeral Home had picked up her mother's remains and her personal belongings. (Steve Berry/CBC)

Scrimshaw added Atlantic Funeral Home did not seek details for her mother's death certificate, while the funeral home she selected required many details.

"I think it's truly shocking," Scrimshaw said. "[Our body] is the most fundamental thing we own. It seems like the ultimate violation that you can be taken — your physical body and all of your private effects — by anyone who claims to represent you."

Apology for misunderstanding

Dustin Wright, a spokesperson for Arbor Memorial, the national company that owns Atlantic Funeral Home in seven Nova Scotia communities, told CBC News they work with families at a very sensitive time when emotions run at their highest.

He said they "genuinely believe there has been a misunderstanding" and they are "sorry there has been a misunderstanding."

He said they have contacted the family and are working toward resolving their concern.

"We always put the needs of our families first, and feel it is important that the family feels closure with this misunderstanding so they can move forward with the funeral service and memorialize their beloved mother."

As for Scrimshaw, her mother's remains and possessions are now at the funeral home of her choice, but she is still reeling from the experience.

"My feeling is that they assumed that I would be too far in grief to argue with them taking control of the situation and therefore taking monetary control and gaining my family's business by an unfair business practice," she said.