Ponoka family upset after grandfather's remains delivered to community mailbox

A Ponoka family who lost a loved one is speaking out in the hopes of sparing another family from what they've been through with Canada Post.

'I just wanted the employees or Canada Post to be educated on how to handle remains,' grandson says

Bill Herrera and Michael Okeymaw on their final visit last month. (Submitted by Michael Okeymaw)

Canada Post has apologized to a Ponoka man and his family after the remains of their dearly departed grandfather were delivered to a community mailbox instead of the family home.

Michael Okeymaw's 90-year-old grandfather died in December from COVID-19-related causes. Bill Herrera's cremated remains were supposed to arrive from Yakima, Wash., last week via registered mail.

Instead Okeymaw found them in the community mailbox.

"I carried them upstairs to my mother and she goes, 'What is that?' And I said, 'That's grandfather,'" Okeymaw told CBC News Monday.

"And then I said, 'I found them in the mailbox'. And then she had such a hurt look in her face there. It was very hard and she started crying."

Okeymaw lodged a complaint, telling the Canada Post customer service representative that the family felt disrespected. But within 10 minutes screenshots show Canada Post closed the file, stating that necessary actions had been completed.

That's when Okeymaw decided to share his story, first telling the details to the Ponoka News.

"I just wanted the employees or Canada Post to be educated on how to handle remains. Like it had stickers all over the box stating cremated remains and there was no excuse," Okeymaw said.

"I'm sure nobody else would want their family members' remains delivered to a mailbox instead of bringing them right to the house."
Michael Okeymaw discovered his grandfather's remains in the community mailbox. (Submitted by Michael Okeymaw)

In a statement to CBC, Canada Post said the item required a signature but under current safety pandemic protocols they were delivered to the community mailbox.

"This was a very unfortunate situation," Canada Post spokesperson Phil Legault said.

"We understand the importance of this item to our customer. And, although procedures were followed in this instance, we agree that we could have done more for our customer, and we are following up internally on the matter.

"We have spoken with the customer offering our sincere apologies during this difficult time and regret any further stress this incident may have caused."

'He was my hero'

Despite recovering after five months of battling COVID-19, Okeymaw said the toll the virus took on his grandfather's body was too much. 

Joined by his mother, Okeymaw travelled to Washington in Herrera's final weeks. They cried and held each other for what they knew was the last time.

Okeymaw chuckled recalling how his grandfather could still summon enough energy in the hospice to flirt with a pretty nurse or sneak a piece of Hershey's chocolate from his stash.

It was that kind of spirit that made a younger Herrera a decorated rodeo champion, especially in the all-around event where he did it all — broncs, bulls, team-roping, calf roping and wild horse racing.

Over years of regular visits, grandfather and grandson would fish, explore the land and dig for roots as Okeymaw learned the traditions of their Dene background.

"My grandfather was my Superman — he was my hero," Okeymaw said, his voice growing hoarse.

"They don't make them like that anymore. He's an old-time cowboy who took everything apart, put it back together, great with animals, can build anything, a great cook. 

"A lot of things, he's just an old cowboy who was breaking horses right up into his 70s, early 80s." 
Bill Herrera was a repeated rodeo champion in the all-around event. (Submitted by Michael Okeymaw)

Okeymaw said he was pleased that Canada Post contacted his mother and apologized.

"Things will change now, hopefully for the better and more respectful for items like that," Okeymaw said. "And my mom was really happy after that, so that made me happy."
Bill Herrera, 90, died last December from COVID-19 related causes. (Submitted by Michael Okeymaw)