Seymour man wants explanation about mother’s lost remains

Four months have passed, and Donald Mink still hasn’t been able to bury his mother’s remains.

Mary Louise Mink died Feb. 23 in North Dakota, where she had lived for about 20 years. She was 77.

Donald, who lives in Seymour, said he paid North Valley Crematory in Grand Forks, North Dakota, for cremation services and to mail the remains to him. He also made arrangements with Buchanan Funeral Home in Austin to bury the remains at Wesley Chapel Cemetery near his grandparents’ final resting place.

But after contacting the crematory, Donald learned his mother’s remains were lost in the mail.

“It has been awful, terrible, devastating,” he said. “Any bad thing you could think of times 100.”

He has tried to get answers from the United States Postal Service but has made no headway.

“I just want to lay her to rest. Now, I’m not able to do that,” he said. “To be quite honest with you, I feel that I will never be able to because I think the box, the package and everything, was destroyed.”

Donald said a lawyer in North Dakota is trying to help him find answers. Until then, it’s a waiting game.

“For one, I want somebody to take responsibility for it,” he said. “Two, somebody owes me something, and nobody wants to pay, nobody wants to take responsibility. … I don’t know who is at fault, but somebody is, and it’s not me. It is taking too long for me. I don’t have the patience for this stuff, especially with it being my mom.”

The manager of the crematorium referred questions about the issue to the North Dakota State Board of Funeral Service, which directed questions to the North Dakota Attorney General’s Office. That agency did not return a call.

Mary died in a nursing home in Cavalier, North Dakota, where she had lived for the past five years.

Donald said about a year after his mother moved to North Dakota, he drove out to see her for a couple of months. After that, he said he periodically talked to her on the phone.

She began living at the nursing home after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Donald said it became difficult to talk to his mother, and she reached a point where she quit taking her medicine and refused to eat.

He said he was in the process of trying to get out to North Dakota to see his mother but wasn’t able to do so before she died.

Two weeks after her death, Donald said he called the crematorium because he hadn’t received her remains. He said he was told the postal service was supposed to get in touch with him, but he wasn’t given a clear answer on what was going on.

Three days later, he called again to get the tracking number for the package. That’s when he learned it was lost in the mail. He said he was in disbelief.

In late 2013, the USPS revised its policy to say Priority Mail Express is the only legal method of shipping cremated remains domestically or internationally.

The postal service offers the boxes free to customers who use Priority Mail Express. They are asked to clearly identify and mark the contents to make sure the postal service can identify the cremated remains during processing and transportation. Cremated remains labels are available at the post office.

The inner container must be strong and durable, constructed in such a manner as to protect and securely contain the contents and properly sealed so it is siftproof. The outer container also must be strong, durable and siftproof.

The proper padding, such as foam peanuts or air bubble wrap, also must be used to keep the container stable and prevent breakage during processing and transportation.

A piece of paper with the sender and receiver’s addresses and contact information also should be put inside the box in the event the address label is obscured or lost.

When shipping to a domestic address, the postal service offers one- or two-day guaranteed service with delivery by 10:30 a.m. (for an additional fee), noon or 3 p.m., depending on the origin and destination ZIP codes’ location, according to the policy.

Donald said he talked to the Seymour postmaster and was told pictures were available of the package, but a lawyer had to request them because they were in internal government emails.

More than a month later, he received the pictures. He said those showed the box containing the remains was placed in a large envelope. He said he believes somewhere in the process, the box and envelope somehow became separated.

“Supposedly, the box is in a recovery hub somewhere in Atlanta,” Donald said.

The package was shipped Feb. 28 but never made it to Seymour. Receipts from USPS show the package was flagged for an “alert,” and there’s no record of the package after it left Grand Forks.

The postal service expressed sympathy to the family for the loss of their loved one.

“We are keenly aware of their desire to locate the missing item as soon as possible,” the USPS said in a statement. “We regret that to date, the cremains have not been located but are committed to our ongoing, vigilant search to find them.”

Author photo
Zach Spicer is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at zspicer@tribtown.com or 812-523-7080.