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Postal Service finds, delivers grandfather's ashes that had been lost in the mail

Laura Helfner of Dix Hills said her grandfather's

Laura Helfner of Dix Hills said her grandfather's ashes were missing when she received the box they were supposed to be in. Credit: Kendall Rodriguez

The U.S. Postal Service has found and delivered the ashes of the grandfather of a Dix Hills woman, days after she received a damaged package that was empty.

Laura Helfner, 37, said the urn with ashes was found in a New Jersey postal distribution facility where, officials told her, the package had apparently been damaged by a sorting machine and the urn placed in a bin. 

In addition, postal officials personally drove the white marble urn to Helfner’s home Tuesday morning. It arrived in relatively good condition, she said, though chipped in two corners.

“Oh my God, we’re relieved and exhausted,” said Helfner, noting that she had spent a worrisome few days making calls, filing a claim and fearing that she had failed in her grandfather’s wish to be buried beside his wife.

Helfner said a separate smaller keepsake urn, containing a small amount of the ashes, is still lost. A Postal Service spokesman said the search is continuing.

"A container with remains was delivered in person this morning to the family. There is a continued search for a second container which was in the same box," said spokesman Xavier C. Hernandez on Tuesday. 

Last week, Helfner had shared her story with several media outlets. She said she was distraught and angry over the loss as well as what she felt was the cold way in which the federal agency handled the matter.

On Thursday, she had found a battered, torn-open package on her doorstep with a note from the postmaster expressing regret for the damage and apologizing for any "inconvenience," she said.

Helfner said her grandfather, Donald Pickering, died in July at age 88 from complications of dementia while in assisted living in Nebraska City, Nebraska. She was following his wishes to be laid to rest beside his wife when Helfner had the funeral director mail her his remains, she said.

Postal officials said they looked over hundreds of hours of video footage in facilities that the package had passed through, Helfner said. The package was apparently damaged while passing through a large sorting machine and the contents were shifted to a bin. 

When postal officials found the urn, they told her they would air-ship it overnight to her — but she declined. She said she would drive to the facility in Jersey City, but officials personally drove the urn to her home.

Helfner said she did not ask the officials why they sent a beat-up empty package to her in the first place.

“I was so incredibly gratified,” she said. “I didn’t get into it.”

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