Ninety-three-year-old Kyung Ja Kim’s wish to have a celebration of life according to her religious beliefs will forever be unfulfilled due to a mix-up caused by Central Funeral Home and Blackley Funeral Home, the lawsuit filed Monday in Fort Lee alleges.
Attorney Michael Maggiano told The Independent on Thursday that the body of another Korean woman 20 years younger than Ms Kim, dressed in her clothes and with a nearly identical hairstyle was presented as that of Ms Kim to her family for her funeral service in November 2021.
Ms Kim’s daughter, Kummi Kim, reportedly alerted staff at the funeral home in Ridgefield that the body in the casket did not resemble her mother.
“When [they] opened the casket, I told them this is not my mom. [The body] was so much younger looking,” she said during a press conference on Wednesday.
But Ms Kummi Kim’s concerns were brushed off by staff who credited botox and ‘‘the miracles of modern science’’ for the youthful look.
The casket was taken to the Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, New York, for a service that was suddenly interrupted with the news that the body being lowered to the ground was not Ms Kim’s.
Mr Maggiano said the funeral director hurriedly announced to mourners that the service was over before dirt had been shoveled in the grave, a custom during Korean funerals.
‘‘Only when nobody was leaving, did the funeral director show my client [Kummi Kim] a picture. She said, ‘yes, that’s my mom,’ and [the funeral director] ordered the casket back up,’’ Mr Maggiano told The Independent.
Mr Maggiano said the ordeal severely impacted family and friends who were present at the funeral, with Ms Kummi Kim reportedly fainting in the arms of her husband.
‘‘The last memory of [my mother] was very painful and disturbing,’’ she said on Wednesday.
According to the family, Ms Kim had led a very religious life and was deeply involved in the Full Gospel Pentecostal Church both in New Jersey and New York after coming to the US in 1975 from Korea.
‘‘Because of her involvement, she wanted her passing to be celebrated in the Presbyterian Church in Leonia, [New Jersey],’’ Mr Maggiano said.
Instead, Mr Maggiano said that Ms Kim’s celebration of life became a traumatic experience for her loved ones. Another church service could not be held with Ms Kim’s body, because the Leonia church had booked services for the weekend after the ordeal.
Ms Kim’s body was buried shortly after and she had a makeshift service at a different church.
‘‘You only have one time to celebrate a life well lived and it turned into a horror show,’’ Mr Maggiano said.
The family is now seeking $50m in damages. The potential sum awarded will be donated to the Truth Presbyterian Church and The Promise Church in New York and New Jersey, Mr Maggiano said.
The Independent has reached out to Central Funeral Home of New Jersey and Blackley Funeral Home and Cremation Services for comment.