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