Monday, January 13, 2014

SHOCK & GRIEF: Daughter Finds Stranger's Body In Mother's Coffin


Still numb with shock and grief after her mother died suddenly on Thanksgiving while on a family vacation in St. Maarten, Lisa Kondvar slowly approached the casket in a New Jersey funeral home for a final goodbye.Grieving Daughter Finds Stranger's Body In Mother's Coffin
It had taken a little more than a week to get Margaret Porkka’s body returned to the United States.
And Kondvar said she walked toward the casket still in disbelief that the vibrant, laughing 82-year-old woman that she had kissed and hugged goodbye in the warm tropical sun just days before was really gone.
As she knelt for a private prayer before the calling hours were to begin, Kondvar said that her grief quickly turned to horror as she realized that the woman lying in her mother’s black sparkly outfit wasn’t her mother at all.
“I kept thinking, ‘Am I dreaming?’ ” Kondvar recalls. “But it wasn’t my mother.” “I saw my sister and husband in the funeral director’s office and I said, ‘This isn’t mom … you have to tell me what’s going on.’”
Thus began a nightmare that has not ended for Lisa Kondvar or her family.
The best they can tell — as they continue to deal with bureaucracy in an attempt to piece together what happened after their mother’s body was left in a St. Maarten funeral home — is that there was a mix-up with a Canadian woman who had died on the island within a few hours of her mother.
Grieving Daughter Finds Stranger's Body In Mother's Coffin
Apparently, Kondvar said, that woman’s body was sent to New Jersey while her mother’s body was sent to Ottawa, where it was cremated by another grieving family.
Kondvar said that her father, Peter, who is 82 and lives in Englewood, N.J., is distraught. He was not well enough to make the family Thanksgiving trip to St. Maarten, she said, so he never had a chance for a final goodbye or proper wake for his wife.
When the family realized that a horrendous mistake had been made, it was shortly before calling hours were to begin on Dec. 8.
They closed the casket, but then proceeded with the wake and the funeral the following day. After that, Kondvar said, the body of the woman they believe to have been a Canadian citizen was turned over to the county medical examiner’s office and they have not kept track of it since.
“We told the priest that it was my mother,” Kondvar said, recalling how family members directed their prayers toward a photo of her mother that was near the casket and also placed near the altar for the funeral.
“The priest blessed her picture,” she said. With all the trauma and uncertainty, there still have been some things that she has found comfort in. She knows that her mother was an active, loving lady who seemed much younger than her years and had just enjoyed a tropical Thanksgiving with some of her children in the days before she died. 

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