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Perhaps a rather morbid question, but it made me think when I saw this data:

Died: 2017-11-19
Buried: 2018-05-05

I thought that corpses were put in those little "chilly boxes" near/in hospitals for at most a week or something. Not... half a year?

I guess it's possible that they were an adventurer who was only found/presumed dead long after they actually died, and then "buried" perhaps even without any physical body at all. However, this "sample" I just gave you was for an elderly person who almost certainly did not go anywhere or do anything like "extreme adventuring" or similar.

While typing this out, it strikes me that it could be one of those sad cases where somebody only realizes that they have died long after it happened because they never leave the house and have no friends... But this also seems a bit unlikely in this case.

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    A true story - we once helped an elderly widowed neighbour once to locate her late husband. Since he had died under suspicious circumstances (he was a disabled octogenarian, and had probably killed himself with his medication) he was autopsied, which took some time (not too many coroners around). And then they forgot were they put him, and since he had been poor and old nobody was looking to hard. Six months and dozens of letters later the widow received an urn, a bill, and no explanation at all. So one explanation for something like this is just "accidents happen". – Eike Pierstorff Feb 2 at 22:22
  • Who does this question refer to? – Richard Feb 3 at 23:58
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    @Richard, that information isn't necessary to the question. – ColeValleyGirl Feb 4 at 14:48
  • @ColeValleyGirl - Really? Surely that information would be incredibly helpful in explaining why someone (e.g. this person) was buried late. At the moment all we have is a bunch of meandering guesswork ranging from frozen earth to benefit fraud via murder. – Richard Feb 4 at 17:30
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    @Richard, knowing their name wouldn't be of any help at all. A geographic tag would be useful; a cause of death might or might not be. But not their identity. – ColeValleyGirl Feb 4 at 18:08
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Note the time of year of the death and the time of year of the burial. In New England, I've seen several obituaries from winter deaths that say someone will be buried later in the spring.

In the post The Frozen Chosen: Winter Grave Digging Meets Modern Times, Traci Rylands says:

Before the invention of the backhoe, there was only one way to dig a grave and that was with a shovel. It could take quite a lot of backbone and energy to accomplish even in warmer conditions. But when the ground froze, it could be nearly impossible.

Often, families simply waited until spring to bury their loved ones. The dead would be placed in what was called a receiving vault, where they might wait a few weeks to a few months for burial.

The post shows several modern devices that can thaw the soil enough for burials to take place. If a cemetery is a small family cemetery, they may not have the equipment to thaw the soil enough for burial.

Check state law for your location to see whether winter burials are mandated (Minnesota and Wisconsin, according to the linked blog post) or whether burials can be suspended until the spring (e.g. North Dakota).

North Dakota funeral directors say a law requiring them to have winter burials would be impractical if not impossible for the hundreds of small rural cemeteries scattered across the sparsely populated state. Just plowing the country road to get to the cemetery can be an arduous task.

Perhaps this isn't obvious, but if no one can get to the cemetery in winter because of impassable country roads, holding a graveside service isn't practical. Spring graveside services for people who died in winter may be delayed even more because they may have to be scheduled around the services for people who died in the spring.

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    Depending on a variety of factors, the ground could be cold enough that even a backhoe would have a hard time digging; a clergyperson relative has seen burial sites where they had to bring in outdoor space heaters to thaw the ground enough to dig the grave (even enough to fake it for the funeral). – minnmass Feb 1 at 21:40
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    @minnmass Yes, the post I linked to shows several types of heaters. – Jan Murphy Feb 1 at 21:52
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    Michigan does not require winter burials either. This sometimes requires explaining to your employer (if they've never experienced a winter death) that while you did attend Grandma's funeral in February, now in May you will be attending the burial. – CGritton Feb 2 at 21:03
  • Yeah, but those dates are 2017/8. Well after the availability backhoes and other modern machinery that can easily dig in frozen soil. It's probably more a matter of not wanting to hold outdoor services in the middle of winter, rather than anything about digging holes. – Darrel Hoffman Feb 3 at 18:06
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    @DarrellHoffman I believe I addressed that in the update, where the funeral director was quoted about the difficulty of just plowing country roads so that people can get to the cemetery. Even as recently as last night, I saw broadcasters in the northeast USA doing their shows from home because the roads were impassible, making it impossible for them to get to the studio. Does this need to be spelled out explicitly in the answer? – Jan Murphy Feb 3 at 19:10
11

As others already mentioned the body can be held by the coroner in case of a suspicious death.

If the body needs to be moved to another state/nation for burial the paperwork/permits to do so, can also take a long time to come through. And that even without taking into account things like war, political unrest, sanctions in or against one of the nations involved.

Last but not least: The deceased can have had his/her remains donated to science, delaying burial or cremation of what is left until the science people are done with it.

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The death may have been suspicious.

Bodies can only be buried or cremated once released by the coroner. In the vast majority of cases this is automatic and rapid. However, if there is any reason to retain the body in case tests need to be performed to establish a cause of death or to incriminate a possible murderer then the body will not be released.

If, as you suggest, the death was not discovered for some time, then the date of death would probably not have been known so precisely.

6

I know someone who lost a family member to a fairly uncommon disease.

With the permission of the family, the body was retained by the hospital for further examination to try to learn as much as possible about the effects of said disease. This was for a fairly significant length of time, I think it was close to a year before the burial eventually took place.

I'd imagine it's not that uncommon for people to similarly will their bodies be used for medical science for a period before an eventual burial.

Alternatively, if cremation is a possibility in this case, then the ashes might be kept at home for a period of time but ultimately buried later.

4

I'm unsure for which country you are asking but from the absence of it I assume the US. ;-)

One more ordinary explanation could be that the paperwork took rather long. Even in cases where the death was not suspicious or discovered late it could be that there were no next of kin that were immediately known. Somebody has to go through all the legal and burial paperwork. If no next of kin are found or willing to go through the process (you have to sign a lot of indemnification clauses, you have to state that you have identified the body and you have to pay for the funeral) then a public administrator will be appointed to handle the case which lengthens the process.

I'm not sure if that would take up to 6 months but it could be.

3

Unfortunately, my wife's grandmother died within the past month of simple old age. She has been cremated. Because of Covid, the date when her ashes will be interred has not yet been determined and will likely remain so for many months. The entire family wants to meet in person for that event, and she will simply sit on a shelf as ashes until we are able to safely do so.

To give you another example, one set of my grandparents each had two dates of the disposition of their ashes. My grandfather served in the Navy, and half of his ashes were scattered into the ocean while the other half, on a completely different day, were placed in a grave so there would be someplace to visit. Same with his wife; my grandmother.

0

Another possibility is benefits fraud. If an elderly person passes away while receiving social security or disability benefits, a partner or child may decide to not report the death in order to keep collecting government checks.

0

A lot of what has been said/written here - whereas some is true - nobody is digging holes in the winter, for example, some is creative speculation that may overlook more likely and common explanations. Apart from Muslim and other traditional practices of nearly immediate burial, a large gap from death to burial does not necessarily indicate something out of the ordinary. Here are several instances from my experience.

  1. My mother died of a then virulent cancer in 1975. She lent, not donated, her body to some institute for study, presumably so that more can be learned about the disease to benefit others and it was returned, or rather the cremated remains, after one year and eventually those were buried. I was quite young, so details are sketchy but I did know this was her plan and I as a budding scientist I approved.
  2. My father died in late June of 1994. He had instructed that his cremated remains were to be buried next to his wife. So far so good, but we - his nine children, of whom, I was born fifth - were scattered around the world, and arranging a date and time and place so that we could all join to honor his life with a celebration, meant a delay of about six weeks. Interment (burial of remains) followed immediately and before a reception. No one fussed about the delay and most were glad for it. Because though death is inevitable, it need not be a crisis.
  3. My wife died suddenly in early December 2012. She was young and I went from stay at home dad to single parent of three teenagers overnight. I know many couples may or may not talk about what the other’s wishes are in the event of their demise but we had. So per her wishes, her body was cremated. And there was a memorial service on the Saturday four days after her death. But unlike in the two cases above there was no detailed planning for the interment, nothing about location, a burial marker and so on. The family was not prepared and there was a lot to deal with. So she was finally interred in June of the following year.
  4. My Mother-in-law had no other children nor a spouse and she continued to live with me and her grandchildren until she died in March of 2016. She had told her younger sister that she wanted to be cremated and buried next to her daughter. I had purchased two plots with four rights of interment at a location that my children chose so there was less to do in getting ready. Again, the Saturday after her death, her church held a memorial service. We designed a nice memorial marker and it was installed next to the place where my wife’s remains are buried and - unless something else happens - where I can be buried as well. But nearly five years later, ‘Mina’ as she was affectionally called, still has not been buried. Her remains are still on the mantel in a beautiful blue urn at my daughter’s house.

So there you have it. Unremarkable instances of a significant gap between recorded death date and burial date.

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