Long Island woman accuses USPS of losing her grandfather’s ashes

A Long Island woman wants answers after her grandfather’s ashes got lost in the mail, putting the Nebraska man’s last wish to be buried next to his wife on hold — possibly forever.

Laura Helfner, of Dix Hills, said her 88-year-old grandfather, Donald Pickering, died in July from complications of dementia in Nebraska City. A funeral home then sent Pickering’s ashes via the US Postal Service as she directed, but the box she received Thursday was ripped open, with an urn and her grandfather’s ashes gone, WABC reports.

“I was pretty shocked when I came home in anticipation of him arriving, and I came home to see the box,” Helfner told the station. “And then the box was torn to shreds. And not only was it torn to shreds, it was empty.”

A note from the postmaster apologizing for any “inconvenience” was also taped to the package, Helfner said.

“It’s just unfathomable, and it just makes you feel terrible,” she continued. “It was almost worse than receiving a call that he had passed away, because now he’s just gone. And the carelessness. When you see this thing, it shows the lack of thought, the lack of care, for something that you care so deeply about.”

The urn and Pickering’s ashes left Nebraska City on Aug. 19 before being processed in Des Moines, Iowa, and arriving in Jersey City, New Jersey, on Aug. 24. The package then remained in New Jersey for two days before it was sent out to Helfner, who originally planned to fulfill her grandfather’s final request next spring, she said.

“He had a plot next to my grandmother, who he loved for many years, was the only love of his life, and his last wish was to be buried next to her,” Helfner told WABC. “I’m not sure what happened right now, but hopefully we can find him and still lay them together.”

Helfer, 37, said she called a post office to complain, but was told to file a claim, Newsday reports.

“This is not a pair of shoes lost by Amazon – it’s my grandfather,” she said. “Total lack of empathy. Total carelessness. Utter thoughtlessness.”

A sticker on the box that was supposed indicate that it contained “human remains” had also been torn off, Helfner told WCBS NewsRadio 880.

Pickering, a Korean War veteran, was born in Nebraska and helped form the Nebraska State School for the Blind and Handicapped. He also gave nearly four decades of service to blind and disabled children in the Cornhusker State and Kansas. His wife, Marcia, died in 1997, Newsday reports.

The interment of Pickering’s ashes was scheduled for next spring alongside his wife at Wyuka Cemetery in Nebraska City, according to his obituary in the Nebraska City News-Press.

A message seeking comment from the USPS’ national press office was not immediately returned Monday. A spokesman told Newsday Saturday that the agency was investigating the incident.

“It feels like a nightmare that’s not ending,” Helfner told Newsday. “All I want is someone showing up at my doorstep with the urn and ashes.”