Valley Family Struggles to Retrieve Mother's Remains
MISSION – A Rio Grande Valley family is trying to claim the body of a loved one who died hundreds of miles away.
Missed deadlines, medical complications and miscommunication -- this culminated in the death and burial of a Valley mother who wanted to rest in peace near her family in Mission.
Linda Lee Smythe would have turned 72 on Thursday.
Her daughter, Karen, was looking forward to spending more time with her mom.
"We were best friends," she said. "We did everything together. We were more than mother and daughter. We were together always and, I didn't even get to say goodbye."
Linda Lee was sent to San Antonio to receive care not available in the Valley. This was just as Karen was recovering from her own surgeries.
"I had sinus surgery in February. I got a post-surgery infection. I wound up in the hospital for a month. Then I had to go to a rehab facility for another month," Karen Smythe explained. “So, I got out May 4th. I saw her May 6th, on my son's 15th birthday. And they moved her May 8th. I got to see her one time.”
She said Smythe died of complications in San Antonio on June 1st. There was little time for grieving as her daughter was thrust into the funeral planning process.
Karen called Heart of Texas Cremation Services and started the process. Health issues, the Valley's flood, and several missed communication attempts all played out as the deadline to complete paperwork came June 25th.
Smythe called Heart of Texas on the 24th to check if things were set.
"That's when she told me for the very first time, ‘Well, OK, we'll proceed but you didn't send back the paperwork signed.' And I said, ‘What paperwork? Because we filled it all out that first day over the phone.’"
She filled out the paperwork and sent it by 4:39 p.m. that Friday. They closed at 4:30 p.m. and that email was not acknowledged by the funeral home, according to the manager who spoke to CHANNEL FIVE NEWS over the phone.
In the meantime, the hospital had its own state-mandated deadlines. No one claimed Smythe's body as far as they knew, so they called the county. The county took custody of the body and buried Smythe.
"She was buried in a pauper's grave with two other people,” Karen said, “She was not returned to the family in her will. She wanted to be cremated and put on the mantle with my grandma and my grandpa with her urn."
Bexar County's Pauper Burial Program told us disinterment is possible but warned that it's costly.
It's even costlier for the Smythe's, since Linda Lee was buried first underneath two more people.
The funeral home told us they could not extend their deadlines more than the allotted 30 days.
The Smythe family is trying to find out how they will pay the $4,000- to 6,000, on top of cremation costs to be finally able to bring their loved one home.
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