The unclaimed bodies of Milan (Slate)

Like many others in Italy, and now around the world, Mauro Catacchio last saw his mother when she was taken away in an ambulance. That was March 26. Maria Laratro was a 94-year-old mother of three, a retired tailor, and “a fighter,” Catacchio said. She had been going to the hospital three times a week for dialysis, and the doctors told her son that she set an example to other patients with her doggedness late in life.

That day, Catacchio had received a call from her caretaker, who said that his mother felt sick and coughed up blood. Catacchio rushed to her home, called an ambulance, and then quarantined himself—he suspected strongly she had the coronavirus. After she died of the virus in a Milan hospital on April 10, Catacchio and his siblings contracted a funeral home to attend to her wishes to be cremated and placed next to her husband. The Milan crematorium was fully booked, so she would be taken to Padua, some 150 miles away. Still, “everything seemed fine,” Catacchio told me.

Then on the morning of May 1, Catacchio received a phone call from his brother Giuseppe. Something had gone wrong. “I felt everything inside me freeze,” Catacchio said. His brother sounded shaken as he explained what happened: Their mother had not been cremated. The funeral company said it had received an empty urn back from the crematorium. Instead, she had been considered an unclaimed body and “buried.”

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