Christchurch woman calls for NZ funeral industry to be regulated
Michelle Bishop has been unable to grieve for her daughter.
The Christchurch woman has been too busy chasing Poppy Funerals for two promised urns, a death certificate and proof her daughter was embalmed.
Bishop's daughter, Hillmorton Hospital nurse Sharnae McLean, 24, was about 10 weeks pregnant when she died in her sleep on August 11, leaving behind a 5-year-old daughter. The cause of death was unknown as the autopsy was inconclusive.
The family chose the Middleton, Christchurch funeral directors because Poppy was Sharnae's nickname.
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Poppy Funerals' director, Jasmin Teague, seemed professional at first, Bishop said.
"It wasn't until after she (Sharnae) came home that flaws started to show. It deteriorated from there."
Within two hours of Sharnae's body arriving at the family home, Bishop noticed her face was changing colour.
Teague soon arrived and Bishop said she told her Sharnae might be reacting to the embalming.
"After that she pulled out a Thin Lizzy (bronzer make up) compact and started dusting Sharnae's face with that. She told my 16-year-old daughter if her face changed too much to keep dusting her."
Teague left the compact in the coffin for the family to continue with any touch ups, Bishop said.
The family also noticed a "strange odour" coming from the body and, on the third day, Sharnae's hands had gone flat and had turned a crimson/black colour.
"In my opinion there are only two things that could have happened: either Sharnae was embalmed very badly or it has not been done at all."
Bishop tried to find out where Sharnae was embalmed, but Teague would not tell her and every funeral home in Christchurch told her they had no record of Sharnae's embalmment.
The family wanted the service and cremation to be at Harewood Memorial Gardens and Crematorium, but Bishop said Teague told her it was booked out.
After another venue fell through, Bishop said Teague told her she had secured a function room* at the Redwood Hotel.
"I thought that was a bit weird. We have eaten there."
When Bishop arrived at the funeral she was horrified to find the venue was way too small for the 150 people she told Teague to expect.
"It was quite horrific now I think back on it.
"We thought we were paying someone to take the stress away for us and that has not happened. It's taken a huge toll on me, as far as feeling like I let my daughter down and did not give her the send-off she deserved."
Harewood crematorium owner Invocare New Zealand regional manager Tony Garing told Stuff it had no bookings on the day of Sharnae's funeral.
Garing said the company worked only on a "cash up-front basis" with Poppy Funerals.
Bishop said Teague also failed to supply her with two urns and a death certificate.
Funeral directors must notify Births, Deaths and Marriages of deaths within three working days of burials or cremations. Failure to do so is an offence under the Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relations Registration Act 1995.
Bishop, who has since obtained a death certificate herself, has laid a complaint with police.
Canterbury metro area commander Superintendent Lane Todd said officers were investigating.
Bishop said the experience had greatly impacted her family.
"I don't think we've been able to grieve for our daughter because we've been so involved in trying to sort this out. To be honest this has distraught (sic) my family more than what Sharnae's passing did."
Bishop called for New Zealand's funeral industry to be regulated.
"It's heinous that anybody can take care of anybody's loved ones."
The Funeral Directors Association of New Zealand has a code of conduct for its members to abide by, but membership was voluntary. Poppy Funerals was not a member.
Teague said she was bound by confidentiality agreements with regards to individual cases.
She said she was aware of issues regarding death certificates and did not find it "acceptable". She believed the issues had been rectified and individual cases would be handled directly with the families involved.
An Internals Affairs spokesman said the department had received a small number of complaints about Poppy Funerals.
He said the department had been in contact with the company to advise it of its responsibilities and offer it support to ensure it met its obligations under the act.
* The funeral was held in Redwood's Styx function room, not the Sequoia 88 restaurant as suggested in an earlier version of this story.