Long Island woman finally gets grandfather's ashes after urn got lost in mail

Donald Pickering, 88, passed away in July in Nebraska
DIX HILLS, Long Island (WABC) -- A woman on Long Island has finally received the ashes of her beloved grandfather after they got lost in the mail.

In an exclusive interview on Friday, Laura Helfner told Eyewitness News that her grandfather, Donald Pickering, died from complications of dementia in Nebraska in July.

"It was almost worse than receiving a call that he had passed away, because now he's just gone," she said. "And the carelessness. When you see this thing, it, it shows the lack of thought, the lack of care, for something that you care so deeply about."

A funeral home mailed his ashes to her in Dix Hills, but when the box arrived, it was ripped open and the urn with Pickering's ashes was gone.

"I was pretty shocked when I came home in anticipation of him arriving, and I came home to see the box," she said. "And then the box was torn to shreds. And not only was it torn to shreds, it was empty."

The United States Postal Service reportedly found the remains after combing through hundreds of hours of surveillance video at the Postal Service processing facility in Jersey City to locate Pickering's ashes and the bin where the urn ended up.

The facility in Jersey City is two million square feet, one of the largest in the country.

The urn was fully intact with the remains inside and was hand delivered to Helfner's doorstep by postmasters.

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Pickering's dying wish was that his ashes be buried next to his wife, and Helfner planned to return to Nebraska in the spring when she hoped the coronavirus pandemic will have subsided.

"He had a plot next to my grandmother, who he loved for many years, was the only love of his life, and his last wish was to be buried next to her," she said. "So I was going back home in the spring to accomplish that."

The urn departed Nebraska City on August 19 and was processed through Des Moines, Iowa, before arriving in Jersey City on August 24. It remained there for two days before being shipped to Helfner, and when it arrived, taped to the box was a note from the postmaster expressing regret for the damaged package and apologizing for any "inconvenience."

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"It's just unfathomable, and it just makes you feel terrible," she said. "To think that something could have been done differently, if someone would have just noticed that the box was ripped and looked around when it happened, you know, maybe they wouldn't have delivered an empty destroyed box on my doorstep containing nothing."

She said she is relieved and grateful for this happy ending, and she thanked the community, Eyewitness News, Congressman Tom Suozzi's office and the USPS for their support.

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