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'It always leaves a question in my mind - is that really his ashes?'

'It always leaves a question in my mind - is that really his ashes?' »Play Video
Helen Petitclerc and Ron Dodson talk about the funeral home mix-up that added to their pain. KATU photo.

KELSO, Wash. - "I just don't feel like that's him there."

That's Helen Petitclerc talking about the ashes she has inside an urn - ashes that may or may not be that of her late husband, Robert.

She and her family are not only wrestling with the grief of losing a loved one, but also the knowledge that his body was involved in a mix-up at the funeral home.

Robert Petitclerc died in the same hospice on the same day as another man - Jerry Moon. Petitclerc, who lost a battle with leukemia, was supposed to be cremated, but instead ended up at a funeral service in Moon's casket, wearing Moon's clothes. Moon's body was sent to Dahl McVicker Funeral Homes in Kelso, Wash., and he was cremated.

The big question now is how something like this could happen. The state has a system that funeral homes are supposed to use to track who has been cremated. It's a piece of metal attached to the person and it's not supposed to burn during the process. Investigators are looking into whether that procedure was done correctly for Robert Petitclerc.

For his widow, waiting for that answer is agonizing. Her son, Ron Dodson, said he spoke to funeral home owner Ken Dahl and said "he told me a mistake had been made." He added "there really wasn't anything to explain except that there was a mistake made and that Mr. Moon had been cremated in place of my dad."

We went to the funeral home for answers, but we were told that Ken Dahl was out. A secretary we talked to was adamant that they could not comment.

Petitclerc's family wants answers and they also want something else - an apology.

"I think we deserve that," his wife said.

"It always leaves a question in my mind - is that really his ashes?" said Dodson.

"I really don't feel like that's his ashes," his mother said.

The state hasn't said where they are in the investigation of the two funeral homes involved in the mix-up. The Petitclerc family hopes the investigation will provide some closure about who is inside their urn. For Helen, after 45 years of marriage, she doesn't want to live another day not knowing if her husband is with her in that urn.

"It's such a shock," she said. "You just never get over it."