Grieving mum given empty tube by funeral home after going to collect son’s ashes


River Carver, 24, miscarried her first baby, Tommy, at 16 weeks and asked the funeral directors if she had him cremated if there would be any ashes due to his tiny size. She was assured there would be

River Carver and Tommy's dad Connor Brotherton with the coffin
River Carver and Tommy’s dad Connor Brotherton with the coffin

A funeral home has apologised after a mum who went to collect her baby son’s ashes was handed an empty tube.

River Carver miscarried her first baby, Tommy, at 16 weeks, and opted to have a ceremony to remember him.

She asked Co-op Funeralcare if there would be any ashes to take home if she opted to have him cremated, due to his tiny size.

River had decided she would have him buried if there were not any ashes – instead, she claims Co-op promised there would be ashes.

The cremation then went ahead a month after Tommy’s death, on June 18, 2017.

But, when 24-year-old River went to collect the ashes, she was told there were none, after all, thanks to a heartbreaking mix-up.

The devastated mum-of-two, from Morley, Leeds, filed a formal complaint last year but said she is still brought to tears by the blunder.

River Carver was devastated
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River Carver / SWNS)

Tommy’s tiny coffin
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River Carver / SWNS)

River said: “I knew from the start that I only wanted Tommy to be cremated if there would be ashes.

“I was told there definitely would be – until I turned up to collect the ashes from the hospital and there were none.

“I was heartbroken – I wanted to bring some of him home so he could be here with us. Even now, thinking about it brings me to tears.”

A scan had shown Tommy no longer had a heartbeat in June 2017.

The young mum had to give birth to her stillborn son at St James Hospital, Leeds, on June 18.

Devastated River was given the option to hold a funeral for tiny Tommy the following month, which was to be organised by Co-op Funeralcare.

She said in a consultation about the funeral, which took place on July 21, she was asked whether she wished to have her tiny son cremated or buried.

River said: “I wanted to be able to take him home, so I said I only wanted to have him cremated if there would be ashes.

“I was worried there might not be as he was only tiny – so I told them I didn’t want to end up with nothing left of him.

“I said I would rather have him buried if there wouldn’t be ashes, but the funeral team said there definitely would be.”

Tommy’s memorial bench
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River Carver / SWNS)

Following the funeral, Tommy’s minuscule remains were cremated at Cottingley Hall Crematorium.

But when the grieving mother went to collect Tommy’s ashes, she was horrified to learn there were no ashes for her to collect.

Sadly, the scatter tube Co-op sent the hospital – which was supposed to have contained the ashes – was empty.

River said: “I was heartbroken – I rang my sister and broke down on the phone.”

Despite her devastation, River spent the next three years trying to come to terms with the loss of her first child.

She went on to have Tommy’s younger siblings Bobbylee, three, and Elisha, two, but has never forgotten her first son.

After a conversation with family in the summer of 2021, River was convinced to submit a formal complaint to the Co-op.

And, after an internal investigation took place, the company acknowledged its errors and apologised.

A letter to River sent in September 2021 said: “At the time of Tommy’s sad death, staff from Co-op Funeralcare should have made the Bereavement Services team aware that due to Tommy’s young age, there may not be any ashes to collect following cremation.”

River went on to have two more children
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River Carver / SWNS)

It explained that due to “a breakdown in communication”, the young mum was then given an empty scatter tube.

It later read: “We are so very sorry for the upset these failures in communication have caused.”

As compensation, Co-op agreed to foot the bill for a memorial area in River’s garden, dedicated to Tommy, which she said was installed four months ago costing £4,000.

The memorial features a headstone, bench, a series of ornaments and a gate where the mum-of-two says she now sits every evening to think about him.

She said she brings Bobbylee and Elisha with her to the memorial, to talk about their older brother who they tragically never got to meet.

River said: “While the memorial is lovely, it’s not quite the same.

“Nothing will bring him back and I know because I couldn’t bring his ashes home, that he’s not here with me. This mess-up means I don’t have my son here.”

ARC 0845 077 2290 or 0207 713 7486 arc-uk.org Antenatel Results and Choices supports families through antenatal screening when they are faced with the difficult decision whether to continue with the pregnancy. Their helpline is manned by trained staff from 10am-5.30pm, Monday to Friday

Tommy’s 0800 0147 800 tommys.org or email [email protected] funds research into miscarriage, stillbirth and premature birth and provides pregnancy health information to parents. If you are pregnant and have immediate concerns you can contact the free Pregnancy Line, open 9am-5pm, Monday to Friday

Sands 0808 164 3332 sands.org.uk offers free support to anyone affected by the loss of a baby through stillbirth or neonatal death. You can call the helpline or email [email protected] The website also has an online forum where you can speak to people who have suffered similar experiences and a list of support groups so you can find the one closest to you

Bliss 020 7378 1122 bliss.org.uk for baby’s born premature or sick bliss.org.uk email [email protected] aims to give every baby born premature or sick in the UK the best chance of survival and quality of life

A Co-op Funeralcare spokesperson said: “Our colleagues are committed to giving the best possible care and service at a time of devastating sadness and loss.

“We have one opportunity to get a funeral right and it is with our deepest regret that on this occasion, we did not meet our usual high standards.

“We are incredibly sorry for the additional distress that this caused Ms Carver and her family after the tragic loss of her son.

“Following the family’s complaint, we carried out a full investigation which showed that, regrettably, mistakes and a breakdown in communication had occurred.

“In response to this, we have reviewed our procedures and implemented mandatory training to ensure that similar issues cannot happen again.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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