‘It was his dying wish’: Blackfoot woman learns that her father’s body never made it to ISU
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POCATELLO — When Stanley Young found out that cancer would soon take his life, he used what time he had left to say his abbreviated goodbyes and put together an end-of-life plan. Part of that plan was to donate his body to science, in hopes that his loss would help others.
Less than two weeks ago, his daughter, Destiny Anderson, discovered that Downard Funeral Home had never delivered her father’s body to Idaho State University as planned.
“I’m angry that they took his final wish, to help society as a whole, away from him,” Anderson told EastIdahoNews.com, battling back tears. “He made a sacrifice — it was his dying wish to donate his body and help other people, and (Downard Funeral Home owner) Lance Peck took that choice away from him.”
Young was diagnosed with stage 4 melanoma in 2013. He was given, at most, nine months to live, Anderson said.
Two months later, Young was dead at age 52.
In discussions with a hospice service providing his care, Young discovered the option of donating his body for scientific research and was quickly onboard. Faced with his own mortality, her father opened his eyes wider than ever, Anderson said. The thought that he would never see his grandchildren grow up was a difficult reality to face.
“He said, when he made this decision, ‘If I can help one person from going through what we’re going through, let’s do it,’” Anderson recalled.
Through his battle with cancer, Young filled out all the necessary paperwork to declare his body for scientific research. Then, when he died, Downard came to Blackfoot to retrieve his body for transfer to ISU.
For the first few months, Downard kept in contact — recommending grief counselors and even making a phone call to check on Young’s family.
Peck told Anderson that ISU would maintain possession of her father’s body for five years, she said. Then the body would be cremated at Downard and the remains returned to her.
Five years later, in 2018, Anderson called Downard to request her father’s remains. But Peck told Anderson that ISU’s shortage of bodies meant that Young’s body would be needed for one more year.
Anderson accepted. Despite her not fully being in agreement with her father’s decision to donate his body, Anderson saw carrying out her father’s wish as her responsibility.
In 2020, having never heard back from Peck and Downard, Anderson once again called the funeral home. But calls went unanswered. And despite leaving messages on several occasions, Anderson never heard back.
“What did you do with my dad?”
Finally, her brother went to Downard personally in search of information. Anderson received a call from her brother, explaining that Peck had their father’s ashes and that Anderson could sign them into her brother’s possession via email.
For the last year, Anderson has carried on with life, with her father’s ashes in her home waiting for the proper time and place for burial.
Then she saw Downward Funeral Home pop up on her news feed as it was investigated for improper handling of human remains. And suddenly, she had wondered why would ISU need a body for an extra year. And, if Downard had regained possession of her father and cremated his body, why was she never contacted?
“My heart sunk,” Anderson said explaining her emotions as she read every update to the story. “Shock. Anger. ‘What did you do with my dad?’”
She fought back the fear and anger, hoping that since her father’s body had been donated eight years ago, there was no way he was affected. Then an update that hit her directly. Reading a statement from ISU, Anderson found out that Downard had gone years without donating a body, during multi-year periods between 2011 and 2017 — the same time her father was allegedly at the university.
Following a call to Pocatello Police, Anderson reached out ISU. The school told her it had never received Young’s body.
Since then, Anderson has struggled through waves of emotion. Does she want to know what happened to her father during that seven-year period? Is the box she has had for the past year filled with her father’s ashes? Someone else’s? Something else altogether?
“I don’t even know that what I have is my dad. It could be tree ashes, for all I know. My biggest concern is, where are my dad’s remains?” she said. “I can deal with not having his ashes, if I know his body was properly disposed of and taken care of. But the not knowing is what’s really getting me right now.
“Another emotion that I’ve gone through is, do I even want to know?” she continued. “I was content being clueless up until this whole thing happened.”
Anderson, like so many others, is waiting as Pocatello Police Department gathers information. With so much uncertainty, the only thing that Anderson is sure of at this point is that her father’s dying wish was never granted.