A Stranger Was Buried in My Father’s Grave

Cynthia Hornig & Richard Schultz
NewsOff Beat 16 Comments

I am usually a very private person, but for the benefit of our Women You Should Know readers, I thought it was important to share this story with you. If I can save one family from the grief my family has endured by sharing this experience with you, it will be worthwhile.

On January 31, 2012, my father Richard Schultz, 71, passed away from pancreatic cancer. He had only been diagnosed five months prior, and my close knit family was beyond devastated. My dad was bigger than life, literally and figuratively; he was the true definition of a patriarch and considered a leader in his industry by his peers.

He was a caring husband, wonderful father and doting grandfather, as well as a friend and colleague to so many. It sounds a bit idealized, but one of the things I have learned from this colossal loss, is that I have the power to choose which memories I want to remember, and I choose to hold on to all of the good ones – since my life was turned upside down, it’s those moments that I have been able to rely on to get me through the more difficult days.

Dad was lucky enough to be able to be cared for and die at home; only about 25% of terminally ill patients get to die at home, so we feel fortunate to have had that opportunity. On the evening of his death, serendipitously, the night aide was unable stay over, so my brother, mother and I hunkered down and prepared to rotate throughout the night, keeping watch and caring for Dad. It was probably one of the most defining moments for us as a family, and it felt incredibly right that we were the ones there for and with him in those last moments. He died at around midnight on Tuesday, January 31st.

Our family is Jewish, and although we aren’t particularly religious, we do observe many of the religion’s traditions. One of the most important customs in Judaism, whether you are reform, conservative or orthodox, is to bury the deceased as soon as possible. This custom is focused on honoring the deceased, and a quick burial is part of that honor. Dad’s remaining days were so trying, that we thought it would be best for us not to wait any longer than we should have to, so we planned to have his funeral and burial the following day, Wednesday, February 1st.

We went to the funeral home to make all of the arrangements, select a casket, plan out the memorial service and coordinate the details of the burial with the cemetery. In the process of arranging for the burial, it is the responsibility of the funeral parlor to verify the deeds of ownership for the burial plots. My parents had purchased their two plots along with two others for my father’s parents 30 years ago, when an opportunity to do so was presented to them through the Dix Hills Jewish Center (Long Island, NY), where they were once members as well as part of the original founding member group. The funeral parlor called the Temple to verify ownership and the location of the plot with the property deed my folks received three decades ago when they were purchased. The three of us were sitting in the room as the funeral director made the call. The quick response we expected ended up taking much longer than it should have. I turned to my mom to express my concern that something was wrong. The funeral director then stepped out of the room and we all just looked at one another. When he came back in, he told us that the temple was having trouble verifying the locations that were marked on the deeds, and that he was going to call the cemetery directly for a map as back up. At least an hour went by, but it felt like days. We were tired and emotional and it all came crashing down around us.

The funeral director told us the two plots that were reserved for my Dad and Mom, next to my grandparents, who were already buried in their plots, were occupied. Huh? Did we actually hear what we think we heard, we were exhausted and worn out, there is no way he just told us that someone was buried in my father’s plot, really? Yes, really. After numerous calls to the Temple executives and the cemetery it was confirmed. The Dix Hills Jewish Center double sold my parents plots to two other people, strangers, who were laid to rest next to my grandparents. A thousand thoughts went running through my head, but I remember thinking that my father’s wish to spend eternity next to his parents with his wife would not be fulfilled and more imminently, where were we going to bury him?

We finished planning the funeral and left to go back to my parents’ home where we worked with the cemetery to secure plots for the next day. Unfortunately, it became very clear that the Temple was not going to be able to assist us; they were not interested in offering any sympathy for our loss or expressing concern for the apparent breach of contract. The President of the Temple called to tell us that without “admitting liability” they could offer two plots that were available, but they were not in the area where my grandparents were and they were also on the edge of the Southern State Parkway, not exactly a spot where one would want to spend eternity. These plots were not nearly comparable to the ones my parents had purchased, so we declined their so-called “offer”. When we found two other plots through the cemetery, in an area that was in close proximity to my other grandparents, who are also buried at the same cemetery, we took them. The original plots my parents paid for were $450 each, the new plots were $5,000 each. We asked the Temple to reimburse us for the difference and they said no, they also had no intention of accepting any responsibility for their outrageous and egregious behavior.

The day of Dad’s funeral was filled with a lot of emotion, sadness as well as relief. Relief that he was now in a better place and no longer suffering and relief that we were able to find a place for him to rest that he would be happy with. There is no way that we will forget or forgive the actions of the Dix Hills Jewish Center for the undo stress we had to experience in an already life-changing stressful time. It would have served them well to show a little sensitivity and kindness as well as some remorse for their actions. My family has tried to reconcile with the Temple since this occurred, but they have been unresponsive to our letters and have left us no other choice than to file a formal Complaint for reimbursement, which we recently filed with the courts. In addition to the reimbursement, we have also requested a full audit of the Temple’s records, so that it can be determined how the plots were able to be double sold, and make sure that no one else will have to go through this ordeal again.

Even as I write this now, it’s still amazing to me that this happened to my family, all of it… that my father is gone, and that we had to endure this additional, unnecessary grief. I hope that by hearing this story, you are encouraged to share it with others. There is nothing we could have done to prevent the circumstances we find ourselves in, but I urge you to check with your family and loved ones that any arrangements which may have made for the future, remain in place. You just never know.

Cynthia Schultz-Hornig, Co-Founder & Editorial Director, Women You Should Know

  • Sandra

    Wow How can they do things like this…? I hope you get it resolved and you should make sure everyone knows about this and I will help!

    • Cynthia

      Thank you Sandra.

  • KT

    I can’t imagine a punch to the soul like this. A complete and unacceptable chain of events and attitude. If there is any group/profession in this world that should be about compassion, sympathy and understanding it would be those involved in end-of-life situations. Absolutely atrocious.

    Dix Hills Jewish Center should be so ashamed.

    How in anyway is this defensible? To have the audacity to charge you for the new plots, not answer communication and to do it all with zero class is unreal.

    I’m so sorry for that you and your family had to go through this and are still dealing with the situation.

  • Catherine M.

    This is disturbing beyond belief and a completely unnecessary ordeal that your family – or any family for that matter – should not have to go through. Although it can never heal the wounds that you have had to endure, I pray that the truth and justice are brought to light.

  • judith schultz

    Thank you for writing our story so beautifully and succinctly. Many women of a certain age get blindsided when their spouse dies. For some, it is doubly difficult because of all the new things they must learn to do, that their husbands took care of. You cannot, and should not prepare for the death of a spouse, but you should educate yourself. Be strong, and think before you act. Unfortunately, some things cannot be foretold, and this was one of those situations.

  • Anne

    My deepest sympathies go out to the Schultz family. No one should have to go through something as horrific as this. Losing a cherished loved one is extremely difficult, but to have to endure such insensitivity and callousness, let alone the extra cost, from temple representatives at such a time is totally unthinkable. I wish you all peace and total retribution against these people.

    • Cynthia

      Thank you Anne!

  • Kevin

    Don’t forget to blame Brenda Rosenberg, President of the DHJC for letting this get to a point of absurdity. When I talked to her the day after Dad died she tried to explain that they had 38 Board Members and couldn’t approve payment. I explained I had sat on Boards and in this day an age a simple email to the Board Members for a vote to reimburse us is all that was needed. You can’t even go into the conversations Mrs. Rosenberg and I had or the one Mom had with her. The whole Board (which Mom (a true WYSK) was the first woman elected to the DHJC Board over 35 years ago, allowing woman like Brenda to now be the President of a conservative temple) should be ashamed of their non-action and all take responsibility for letting this happen. It is hard to have faith in these institutions that are supposed to be the bearers of faith.
    Kevin Schultz

  • LRB

    I am so sickened by this entire story. You would expect that the Temple reps would, at the very least, act with kind hearts and compassion on top of doing anything and everything to help the family rectify the Temple’s wrong doing and beg for the family’s forgiveness. Are they not people of God, after all? Perhaps they should practice the honorable values that they very likely preach to their congregants each week. It’s shameful and my heart goes out to the Schultz family. This is an eye opening warning to all of us… if it can happen to them it can happen to anyone.

  • WYSK

    For any of our NYC/Tri-State area based readers, Cynthia and her mother will be on WNBC-TV Channel 4 News at 5:30pm today talking about their family’s ordeal. Please tune in if you can.

  • Sue

    I am so sorry this happened and for your loss.
    I am also glad that you are going to make the temple accountable for their actions and lack of them.
    Many times, grief takes away the motivation and energy to be able to follow through, but your actions will hold the President responsible for her title duties and make sure this never happens again to another family.
    Your father is looking down proud.

  • judy Feldman

    Dear Judy, Kevin and Cindy,
    I remember all of you with the fondest memories. You are indeed a lovely family. I am astonished at the brutal way the temple handled this affair. However, I am not at all surprised since they handled everything involving Joel’s death in 1989 in a very insensitive way. What you had to endure should surely be compensated in any way that could possibly ease the pain they caused you. I hope the following days will be very kind to all of you. I am sure the loss of Richard is very great. I remember him as well in the most positive light. With well wishes, Judy Feldman

    • Cynthia

      Judy – Thank you so much for reaching out and sharing your story too. Wishing you and the family well.

  • Donald

    “…we do observe many of the religion’s traditions”. Here’s one, how about visiting the cemetery each year before the high holidays. From what I understand, and correct me if I’m wrong, but the “strangers” who were laid to rest next to your grandparents were buried almost 10 years ago. When was the last time someone from your family actually visited the cemetery? How could you not notice others buried in your plots after all these years?? Having lost a father as a young boy, I am very sympathetic to your loss, but there are two sides to every story and going on a media smear campaign against what I believe to be a wonderful temple is just not right.

    • KT

      Donald, are you for real or just an internet troll?

      I don’t know if any of what you wrote is true about the “strangers” being buried there almost 10 years ago, nor do I know how you would know that, but what does it matter? It feels like you may have some inside information about the “strangers”. Why is that?

      You sympathize with this woman because of the loss of her father but decide that a defense for the Temple is to basically insinuate, in a snarky tone, that the family members are somehow not observing religious traditions and it is in anyway their responsibility? Again, I do not know the schedule of the family or their personal business of when they go to a cemetery and nor do you, but that illogical rebuttal is borderline demented. Well done, you’ve joined the ranks of unbalanced, internet commenters that feel free to present their wacked-out opinions hiding behind anonymity. Congrats!

      Let’s say someone visited the graves of the “grandparents” the ACTUAL day they incorrectly buried the “strangers” in the plots owned by this family for decades…what then? Is it still this woman’s fault for not being there 6 hours earlier to stop the “strangers” burial? The horrible and careless mistake was already done… What then? Frankly, your logic is insulting and asinine.

      Two sides to every story? So the other side of the story, according to you, is that the family was delinquent in their “high holidays” duties? Wow! Brilliant! I’ll use this one next time a woman gets sexually assaulted for not double bolting her door. She should have checked her door before going to sleep, right? Too bad she didn’t or she wouldn’t be a victim. What a dummy, right Donald?

      How about this one Donald… You own a space in a garage where you keep your car. You don’t use it much because you live in a city where it is a hassle to drive. A few months go by and you decide to take a trip to the country. You get your kids ready to go, pack up everything, make arrangements for a house sitter, etc… You go to get the car and it’s not there… You go talk to the attendant and he apathetically shrugs his shoulders while barely looking at you and says your car has been permanently moved to another garage way up town. You stand there dumbfounded and ask him why it has been moved?… “Sorry buddy, you didn’t use it for a few weeks and you should have checked on it”, he says. You try to engage him further to understand and instead of sympathy he shows you indignation in response to your nerve of wanting to have some more information about what the hell happened… In your confused and shocked state, you realize you are going to never get to your destination on time… You tell him this and his response is, “Too bad. But one more thing, your parking space is now ten times what it used to cost. Sorry, should have checked on your car.”

      Donald, your lack of compassion, understanding, logic and comprehension of basic truth is astounding — very similar to the Temple described in this story.

      This family should have to check on a group/corporation/business whose only real major responsibility is to reserve a few feet of space for people?! You know what Donald, you’re right. How dare the family assume that purchasing, reserving, trusting and expecting the minimal amount of class and respect should be on a Temple’s check list. How dare these people!!!

  • Gargouille

    I have been away from this site for so long and entirely missed this…I am so sorry to hear it. And even more outraged to discover that a spiritual center should turn its back on a family of mourners. Religion is not business, after all….or is it?