Two families that had picked up the wrong bodies from a private mortuary in Migori County for burial have agreed to swap the corpses and lay them to rest at their rightful homes.
The family of Elsa Awuor Otolo, 92, and that of Elsa Orwa Ogola, 99, each picked up a body from Rosewood Nursing Home in Rongo town on January 7 and December 30, respectively.
The confusion was only discovered last Friday when Otolo’s family was about to bury her, only to discover that they had been given the wrong body.
Their relative had been buried at a different home in Kobwana village, North Kanyabala sub-location, Homa Bay sub-county, and the grave completely sealed with concrete and floor tiles.
The confusion started on December 30 when Ogola’s family went to the mortuary to pick up the body of their relative. They were given that of Otolo.
Ogola’s son Samuel Oyodo had questioned mortuary attendants why some features on the body they were given were different from those of their relative, including the body size.
“The body that we saw had a different nose shape. There were also other features which were different,” Mr Oyodo said.
The family took away the body after mortuary attendants convinced them that the body features may have changed due to morgue storage conditions.
“I was told that corpses are affected by chemicals and their intestines removed, which alters many body features. They said this could have been the reason some features had changed,” he said.
At this time, the family had concluded burial plans and were ready to give their relative a decent send-off. Back at home, mourners had arrived from various places ready for the burial.
The body was loaded into a hearse and driven to Kobwana village, where a grave had been dug near the elderly woman’s house.
The funeral ceremony went on as planned the following day without anyone noticing the mistake.
A week later
A week later, Mr Ayodo received a call from Rosewood Nursing Home informing him that he might have picked up the wrong body.
“I asked the mortuary attendants to send me a picture of the body in question. I also sent them pictures of my mother when she was alive,” he said.
Upon comparison, it was established that the mortuary attendants had made a major blunder.
But this was only established after Otolo’s family had driven back to the mortuary saying they had been given the wrong body earlier in the day. The family had also raised doubts about the body when they picked it up. But like Ogola’s family, they were convinced by mortuary attendants that corpses change when they are in a mortuary.
Burial ceremony called off
One of Otolo’s grandsons, Tobias Otieno, said his family had slaughtered three cows for the mourners and the funeral programme had reached its peak before some family members became suspicious about the features they were seeing in the coffin.
A last-minute change was made when the body was just about to be lowered into the grave in Pap Taya village in Ndhiwa sub-county on Friday.
Otolo’s body had to be taken back to Rongo, where a report was made to the mortuary managers before they began a process of ensuring each family received the right body.
Alternative Dispute Resolution
After realising the mistake, both families tried to use alternative dispute resolution to exchange the bodies over the weekend, but government agencies thwarted those efforts and demanded that they obtain a court order.
Migori Senior Principal Magistrate M.O. Obiero on Monday allowed the families to exhume the body that had been buried at the wrong home and swap it with the other one.
Nursing home costs
The court also ordered Rosewood Nursing Home to pay for the funeral expenses incurred by both families.
“The second defendant (Rosewood Nursing Home) to settle the cost of said exhumation, transportation and ensure necessary treatment of the body before burial,” the magistrate ruled.
Otolo’s body was exhumed on Monday night in work that took three hours and was witnessed by both families, who faulted Rosewood Nursing Home for the confusion.
It took the efforts of several young men to break into the sealed grave and take the coffin out.
Both families returned to the drawing board to make fresh burial plans.
At Ogola’s home, the family destroyed the grave where the wrong body was buried. Another grave will be dug, according to Luo traditions.