A Missouri family says that when they went to a funeral home to pick up their loved one’s ashes, they were given an urn along with a cardboard box containing something they did not expect: the man’s brain.
The family of Frederick Dean Love Jr., 68, said the ordeal last year has left them suffering from severe emotional trauma and depression, according to a lawsuit filed in October in the Circuit Court of St. Louis City.
Love’s stepdaughter said she still has severe headaches after she was exposed to a toxic embalming chemical used on the brain, the suit stated.
The family said they immediately realized something was wrong when they arrived at Simpson Funeral Home chapel for an open-casket service on Oct. 3, 2022. Love had died on Sept. 25, 2022, after collapsing at his Missouri home.
One of Love’s stepchildren noticed that his skin “was a bruised purple color,” the lawsuit stated, blaming it on “poor embalming practices.”
“Further, certain rods used during tissue donation, which are to be removed after the donation and before presentation of a body during a funerary service, were negligently and recklessly left in the body of the decedent and presented to the family,” it said. “These rods created an unnatural and rigid appearance to an already poorly handled embalming presentation.”
The family was also upset that the American flag on Love’s casket was “wrinkled and unpressed,” according to the suit. Love was a retired U.S. Armed Forces captain.
Following the funeral, the family’s nightmare continued.
The suit said that on Oct. 6 Love’s wife, son and stepdaughter went to Simpson Funeral Home to pick up Love’s ashes. They were given an urn containing the ashes “along with a plastic sack containing a cardboard box and articles of Fred’s clothing,” according to the lawsuit.
The family placed the items in the stepdaughter’s car and made the six-hour drive back to the family home. During the trip, the stepdaughter smelled “an extremely pungent chemical smell” and started to develop a severe headache, the suit said.
Once back at the family home, they placed the unopened box in the garage. The lawsuit stated that the box was marked “biohazard” and the family initially believed it contained some of Love’s “personal effects.”
But when the smell did not go away, the family began investigating what could be inside.
The lawsuit said that the family had concerns about opening the box because of the biohazard symbols and feared that Mid-America Transplant, a St. Louis nonprofit that handles organ and tissue donation, had left lab work inside the box, the suit said. Love was an organ donor.
The family spent hours calling around trying to get answers, the lawsuit said.
It wasn’t until the family took the box to Baue Funeral Home, which handled the original embalming, that they were finally told what was in the box. According to the lawsuit, a staff member at the funeral home told the family that “essentially you guys were given a box that contains Fred’s brain by mistake by the funeral home.”
The staff member said that the brain had been removed and embalmed separately because Love underwent a partial autopsy, according to the lawsuit. The staff member said the smell was most likely from embalming chemicals, the suit said, and told the family that the chemicals were not toxic. (The lawsuit alleged that the chemicals used are believed to be a carcinogen that can cause chemical burns and is toxic if inhaled, ingested or touched.)
The suit said that the family “expressed their bewilderment and extreme sadness with the interference in their grieving process.” It’s believed that the funeral home is still in possession of the brain, according to the suit.
David Bub, an attorney for Baue Funeral Home, said they are aware of the lawsuit and “adamantly deny any allegations of wrongdoing.”
“We are a first-class funeral home that has been serving the St. Louis community for many years,” Bub said.
Kevin Lee, the president and CEO of Mid-America Transplant, denied “responsibility for the situation as alleged” and said everything the lawsuit described happened after Love left their care.
“We have standard protocols that we consistently follow through the donation process to ensure we honor the integrity and dignity of the heroic individuals who say yes to organ and tissue donation,” Lee said.
The lawsuit also named the Simpson Funeral Home and a medical transport company, Battlefield Bonded Courier, as defendants. Simpson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.