David Waxler wanted to lay his mother to rest beside his father. But someone else was already there.
After his mother passed away, David Waxler experienced an understandable amount of grief.
But when he tried to lay her to rest in a purchased plot shared with his father, another casket was already buried there. That made Waxler feel like a failure.
“I dream about it all the time,” Waxler said, saying he felt like he let his mother, Edna, down.
It’s against Jewish custom for the body to be above ground for an extended period of time after their death, because it leaves the body in turmoil.
Waxler said Shalom Memorial Park offered plenty of alternatives that broke Jewish tradition. The cemetery, in Huntingdon Valley, offered to dig up his father, George, and move both his parents to a different plot. It also offered to keep Edna’s body in the mausoleum above ground.
“They said they follow Jewish tradition, but they don’t,” Waxler said.
Jewish tradition dictates that the body cannot be moved once it is underground.
Waxler, 68, is the vice president of finance at a pharmaceutical company in the Northeast.
Edna Waxler was 99 when she passed away on June 18, 2016. She would have been 100 last month. George Waxler was 93 when he passed away in March 2014.
The Waxlers are a tight-knit family. George and Edna were married for 71 years, and lived in Oxford Circle for 50 of them. That’s where David and his sister grew up.
The family had a tradition of going out to eat dinner every Sunday when they still lived in Oxford Circle. After David and his sister each got married and moved out, they kept the tradition alive by gathering to enjoy breakfast at Tiffany Diner on Roosevelt Boulevard every Saturday. It was a tightly held tradition that extended family often participated in.
“They knew us at the diner, I can tell you that,” David said with a laugh.
George and Edna had always been a recognizable pair. George worked as a mailman for “a long period of time” before setting up a newsstand at 3rd and Market streets in the 1960s.
“Everyone in the area knew him,” Waxler said.
George and Edna sold newspapers, magazines, lottery tickets (“back when the lottery first came in”) and hot pretzels.
They were also involved in City of Hope, a cancer research foundation, and Knights of Pythias, a fraternal order.
Waxler described both his parents as active and dedicated to the family.
Waxler got the call about the mystery casket in his mother’s plot hours before the funeral. Because the body was unidentified, the cemetery was unwilling to move it until it received a court order. Waxler estimated it took about three weeks to obtain it.
“They blamed the court system, but they just don’t care,” he said. “It’s just a business to them.”
Waxler had a trip planned last July 12 to celebrate his 45th wedding anniversary — a trip his mother had encouraged him to take. He had requested the “second funeral” take place before then.
“They called me the 11th of July at 2:30 p.m.,” he said. “I asked if we could do it tomorrow morning [before the flight], and they said they couldn’t promise that.”
Waxler requested to hold off until he returned from his trip.
The second funeral was not held until July 31, approximately a month and a half after Edna’s death.
Shalom Memorial Park is owned by Service Corporation International, which owns more than 2,000 funeral homes, according to its website. In 2014, the cemetery was sued due to overlapping plots. In 2010, there was a case where the cemetery called just before a funeral to inform the family there was no room in the prepaid plot.
The reason for the plot mixup remains a mystery.
“The goal of Shalom Memorial Park is to serve every family to the best of our ability and to the family’s complete satisfaction,” SCI said in a statement. “We are also committed to protecting the privacy and confidentiality of the families we serve, so we are respectfully unable to provide any further comment.”
Waxler plans to take legal action, and is waiting for a court date. He plans to sue the company on grounds of mental distress.
“Every time I look at the grave, it still comes back to haunt me,” he said. ••
Logan Krum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org