Vincent Craig's last wish was to have his ashes scattered off the New England coast.
But after agreeing to donate his body to UC Irvine's medical school for research, that request vanished in the school's bureaucracy. Now, his family says, they have no ashes--and no closure.
"I can't put my hands on anything to say goodbye to him," said widow Helen Veronica Craig. "To me, I feel like he's around somewhere."
The family has sued for an undisclosed amount of money, alleging that the ordeal has caused "great emotional distress and shock."
"It's been rough. . . ," said the Craigs' son, Vince. "We're all very confused and disappointed in UCI. We had wanted to help [school officials] and trusted them. They have just been closing the door on us."
UC Irvine officials declined to comment because of the lawsuit.
The 78-year-old Anaheim Hills resident, who suffered from Alzheimer's disease, died in September 1995 and his body was given to the school. When they consented to the donation, the family says, officials of UC Irvine's College of Medicine assured them that the cremated remains would be returned to them. The Craigs had planned a family reunion in New England in 1996, when they would spread the ashes on the ocean.
For months, Vince Craig said, he unsuccessfully tried to get information from program administrators. The son said that on June 15, 1997, he spoke to a secretary who told him that his father's ashes already had been disposed through a service hired by the school.
Craig then asked for proof that the cremation had occurred, but has not received a reply from authorities, he said.
The family became even more distressed earlier this year when they learned that state investigators had discovered the cremated remains of dozens of people whose ashes had been stored in containers at Anaheim's Southwest Mortuary Service, whose clients include UC Irvine's medical school.
State investigators are trying to identify the remains and determine whether they were from the medical school or another client.
Frustrated, Craig and his mother filed suit on June 2, accusing UC Irvine officials of "consciously and recklessly" breaching an agreement to return the ashes.
"I feel like I've disappointed my family because I was supposed to take care of this. . . . Now we have lost forever the chance to have closure on my dad's death."