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'This is not my mom': Grieving daughter realizes funeral home has stranger inside her mother's casket

Posted at 5:36 PM, Apr 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-01 23:53:42-04

WACO, TX — Brandy Lewis was filled with grief after her mom died of COVID-19. That grief quickly turned to fear when she realized the funeral home had another woman inside of her mother's casket.

Lewis went to the Bellmead Funeral Home to dress her mother for the funeral. When she arrived, staff showed her a stranger in the casket. The woman had a slight resemblance to her mother, but Lewis had no idea who was lying there.

"I saw this lady and I looked at her and I thought that I was crazy. I thought my mind was playing tricks on me, then all of a sudden, I said, 'This is not my mom,'" Lewis said.

Lewis then had to convince the funeral home they had the wrong woman.

"The funeral director, he knows me, and he's rubbing my arm and he says, 'Brandy, it's always harder when it's someone we're close to,'" she said. "He thinks I'm having an emotional breakdown because I lost mother, and no, I'm having a breakdown because they've lost my mother."

Lewis started to think the worst. She didn't want to bury a woman she didn't even know.

"Is she cremated? Is she buried somewhere else? Whose body do I have?" she thought.

Sherri Pilgrim, Lewis's mom, passed at Ascension Providence. Lewis believes it was there where her mom was tagged wrong. When a person dies, officials place a tag on the body as a means of identification.

Ascension Providence issued the following statement.

Ascension Providence works with grieving families to ensure their loved ones are handled with care and respect. Ascension Providence follows protocols regarding the release of the deceased with Waco Mortuary and the funeral home of choice. Once the deceased patient is transferred to the mortuary, he or she is no longer under the care or responsibility of Ascension Providence. In respecting patient privacy, we do not share the details of individual patient care.

25 News asked how Ascension Providence's tagging process works. Officials replied that hospital staff utilize the patient's armband, from admission to departure, as the source of patient identification.

25 News also reached out to the Bellmead Funeral Home. Staff said the funeral home identifies bodies by their tag. They said they have no control of the tagging process, and in this case, the tags were wrong.

Thankfully, Pilgrim was found at a different funeral home within 24 hours and returned to Lewis.

Lewis blames the swap on both the hospital and the funeral home.

"I think they are both equally at fault," she said.

Lewis says she has worked with the funeral home before, and the staff knew her and her mother well.

She says there were key indicators that showed Bellmead Funeral Home had the wrong woman.

"The scarring on her chest was very recognizable, and like I said, the lady had no scars," Lewis said. "And this woman was quite a bit older than my mother."

This incident happened in December. Lewis says she has no idea if the other family is even aware this situation happened.

"You wonder if the other family even knew. I have no idea if they know," she said.