SINGAPORE - A grieving family were at their home's void deck to receive their patriarch's body for the wake, only to be told by staff of Harmony Funeral Care that his body had already been cremated.
To add to their distress, his send-off was done according to Christian traditions and funeral rites, when the man was a Taoist.
The erroneous act by the funeral home is believed to be the first reported case in Singapore of a wrong body being cremated.
Family members of Mr Kee Kin Tiong, 82, told The Straits Times they were in "great pain" over the mix-up on Monday (Dec 30).
"We feel very regretful that because of this incident, our loved one had to leave this world on his own, without anyone from his family to send him off," said Mr Kee's son-in-law, who wanted to be known only as Mr Ho.
"According to our beliefs, it is required that the deceased's body be allowed to 'rest' for a minimum of three days before it is cremated. We weren't even able to do that for my father-in-law, because of what happened," he said.
According to Mr Ho, 48, the funeral home said the mix-up was caused by a male employee who collected Mr Kee's body by mistake from the embalmer. The body was placed in a closed coffin, which was taken to the Christian funeral of a 70-year-old man that morning and later cremated at Mandai Crematorium.
The bodies of both men were lying in the same room at Hock Hin Undertaker, a business started by the grandfather of Harmony Funeral Care's funeral director, Miss Harmony Tee, who is in her 20s.
The funeral home declined to say whether the family of the 70-year-old had been informed of the mix-up and what happened to his body.
The male employee told Mr Kee's family earlier this week he had verified which body to collect via "facial recognition".
Mr Ho said he had asked to see the CCTV footage at the undertaker and records of what time Mr Kee's body was collected, but the funeral home turned away the family.
"They told us the CCTV footage from the night of Dec 29 to the morning of Dec 30 was not there," he added.
Harmony Funeral Care had also informed the family that the employee had been suspended.
When ST visited the company in Sin Ming Drive on Jan 2 and Jan 3, its staff said it would be "looking into" the matter and declined to comment further.
Mr Kee's family have made a police report, and are waiting for the results of the investigation by the police and National Environment Agency. They have also sought legal advice.
Meanwhile, their minds are not at peace because "at this point, we can't even be sure if the cremated body was actually that of my father-in-law", Mr Ho said.
"Even if we tried to take part of his remains out for DNA testing, it would be extremely hard because any (remaining) traces might have been obliterated during the cremation process," he added. The family had collected an urn of ashes from Mandai Crematorium.
Added the patriarch's 29-year-old granddaughter, who wanted to be known as Ms Kee: "We are sharing our story because we hope the funeral industry can improve their service standards. This has caused us a lot of pain, and we really hope no other family will go through a similar situation."