Rose Hills Mortuary LP is being sued by the widow and other relatives of a man who died of cancer in June and allegedly was not dressed according to Buddhist tradition as requested by the family before his cremation.
Joann Chen — the widow of the late Mike Chen — her two sons and two grandchildren brought the negligence suit Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court, seeking unspecified damages. A Rose Hills representative did not immediately reply to a request for comment. Mike Chen was terminally ill with cancer at the City of Hope in Duarte on June 16 and his death was expected soon, the suit states. Joann Chen met with a mortuary representative at a Rose Hills office in Alhambra to prepare for her husband’s funeral and told her that the family would dress her spouse in clothing that he had chosen according to his Buddhist faith, according to the suit.
The representative said she was aware of the importance of the dressing request and assured Joann Chen it would be honored, the suit states.
Under Buddhist tradition, it is important for the deceased to be dressed properly with shoes on when either buried or cremated with full attire so the deceased can have a proper afterlife. In addition, Chinese culture and tradition requires that the deceased be buried or cremated with full clothing on because not doing so is a showing of “utmost disrespect and disservice to the deceased and it also means that the family did not fulfill their due diligence in having the proper burial for the deceased if there is no clothing,” according to the suit.
Buddhists believe that if the deceased does not have shoes on during cremation, he or she will be unable to walk in the afterlife and will not be able to travel “on the road of the passing,” according to the suit.
Mike Chen died June 22 and his widow and oldest son, with the help of two nurses, dressed him in clothing and shoes that he had chosen for his cremation, the suit states. His two grandchildren had written two personal farewell letters to their grandfather and these correspondences were to be buried with him so he could “have something forever from his two dearest grandsons that he loved the most,” the plaintiffs say.
The two letters were placed inside the pocket of the jacket that Mike wore, but allegedly were not with him when he was cremated.
Joann Chen was denied permission by Rose Hills to view her husband’s July 5 cremation, but the family was not told in advance about when it would take place, the suit states. The mortuary allegedly apologized to Joann Chen the next day and told her she could pick up her late spouse’s ashes and urn.
On July 17, a Rose Hills representative surprised Joann Chen by calling her and saying she could pick up Mike Chen’s clothing and shoes, the suit states.
“Joann had an emotional meltdown,” the suit states. ” She then realized that Mike Chen was cremated without his shoes and clothing.”
Joann Chen could not continue the conversation and handed the phone to one of her sons, who was unable to get a proper explanation from the Rose Hills employee about why his father was not wearing the designated clothing and shoes when he was cremated, the suit states.
A mortuary supervisor the son subsequently spoke to said he was “just as perplexed and speechless” about what happened and would try to find out what happened, the suit states. The supervisor told Joann Chen and one of her sons during a later meeting that he was unable to find out what happened and explained that it was “a mistake made by Rose Hills,” the suit states.
The supervisor “admitted that one of Rose Hills employee changed the cremation instructions by himself without any approval or permission, and worse yet, the department manager did not catch such grave mistake either,” according to the suit.
The suit further states that the supervisor showed Joann Chen and her son paperwork indicating a Rose Hills employee scratched out the initial cremation instruction and changed it to say to return all personal items back to the family.
Asked what could be done about the alleged mistake, the supervisor told Joann Chen and her son, “The best I can do right now is refund you about $800 back,” leaving the two Chens “dumbfounded,” the suit states.
Rose Hills also later offered to cremate Mike Chen’s personal attire and belongings, pour and mix the items into his ashes with a new urn and conduct a ceremony with Buddhist monks, the suit states.
The Chen family refused the offer because it did not provide “any meaningful accountability by Rose Hills for such a grave mistake,” which brought “shame and disgrace” to the family, traumatized them with “incomprehensible duress” and “created both cultural and religious violations for the family,” the suit states.