‘It’s so painful:’ Local families struggling to get loved one’s body back

RICHMOND, Va. -- Alease Ward lost her 45-year-old daughter, Crystal, to pneumonia on December 29, but has been struggling to come up with the money to bring her home.

Ward says she's hoping for a simple cremation, with no funeral, but she cannot afford the services.

"I had no idea it was so expensive," Ward said. "The highest I found was $3,500, the cheapest was $1,125."

Alease Ward

Without life insurance for her daughter, Ward says she's contacted relatives, tried arranging payment plans with funeral homes and even reached out to Richmond Social Services for help. Several funeral homes told Ward they no longer accept payment arrangements and social services could only offer $500 in assistance.

A tearful Ward told CBS 6 she's emotionally and physically exhausted.

She says VCU Medical Center, while working closely with the family, can only hold her daughter's remains for a certain time, and can only release the body to a funeral home or local law enforcement.

Crystal

"I just want to know that I did everything I could possibly do for my child, rather than to see her go down like that. It's so painful," Ward said.

Ward is not alone in her struggle.

Lisa Hutchins lost her 35-year-old disabled brother on January 6. James Dunivan, called J.D. by his family, died in his sleep at home and was taken to the Medical Examiner's office in Richmond.

"He was loving, he touched everybody," Hutchins said. "For him to go like that- it's just tragic."

James Dunivan

While the Hutchins family has arranged some funds through a GoFundMe account, the medical examiner's office told the family they had 10 days to claim J.D.'s body. If they couldn't afford to do so, his remains would be turned over to Amelia County authorities, where J.D. lived with his family.

"It's so stressful," Hutchins tearfully explained. "I get up in the morning and I hate to see my dad cry, that kills me."

Hutchins also reached out to several local funeral homes and to Amelia County Social Services, but the county could not provide any assistance.

Both families say they are racing the clock to come up with the funds for a proper cremation service for their loved ones.

Lisa Hutchins

Virginia law requires that localities handle unclaimed bodies, since the state cannot carry the burden.    However, the law places a financial strain on localities since they must obtain court orders and contract with local funeral homes to take possession of the deceased.

For families like the Hutchins and the Wards, who find it difficult to make ends meet, they say the emotional toll of a timeline is overwhelming.

Both are hoping for help soon.

"I pray," said Alease Ward. "I sure hope so because it's been so long."

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