A Calgary couple says they were forced to grieve the loss of their infant daughter twice — the first time when she died just hours after birth and again when a funeral home owner got rid of the baby's ashes.
Mariana Medina and her husband, Camilo Martinez, are now suing Elegant Tributes — no longer in business — for $35,000 after owner Mike Dost got rid of baby Alana's ashes.
But the family says the lawsuit isn't about the money.
"It was about an apology, a sincere apology and knowing where our baby's ashes are, the truth," said Medina.
Dost doesn't deny he got rid of the infant's remains but said in a written statement provided to CBC News that he believed he was following the family's wishes.
The former business owner said he sympathizes with the family and has been trying to "resolve the issue in good will."
"It is unfortunate that the family is seeking to heal their pain through the courts."
'She passed away in my arms'
Medina and Martinez say their 2017 pregnancy was a healthy one with all checkups pointing to a thriving baby.
After a miscarriage, the baby would be their first child.
Medina went into labour at 40 weeks and four days.
But on Oct. 27, 2017, Alana Vila Ruiz was born having inhaled toxic levels of meconium.
The infant died in her parents arms within 18 hours.
"We were holding her telling her how much we loved her, giving her hugs and kisses and saying goodbye," said Medina.
"She passed away in my arms."
'I never thought of burying my baby or cremating her'
The parents were devastated.
"You go to have a baby and you come back with empty hands," said Martinez.
Medina is originally from Mexico, and Martinez was born and raised in Colombia. They have friends here, a support system they call their "chosen family, Canadian family."
A friend helped make funeral arrangements. The parents couldn't.
"Who knew we would need a funeral home?" said Medina. "I never thought of burying my baby or cremating her."
Alana was cremated on Nov. 3, 2017.
Plans for a memorial tree
The family picked up their baby's remains for a funeral service the next day and returned the ashes after mass.
Medina says the funeral home offered to store the ashes and urn at no charge.
"I was so bad," said Medina through tears. "I couldn't have her ashes here at home, I couldn't just keep them here. I needed to process what happened.
"Instead of having a baby, a living baby, I was going to have ashes."
Medina says the funeral home director committed to keeping the remains for at least a year.
But the plan all along was to pick up the urn within about six months, in the spring, so they could use the ashes as they planted a tree that would be a permanent memorial to Alana.
Dost says he scattered ashes in park
At the time, the funeral director was a woman whom the grieving parents came to love.
She was kind and helpful, and when she left the business in March 2018, she made sure to communicate to the new director that Alana's ashes were secure in her office, according to the civil claim filed in provincial court.
On June 1, 2018, ready to pick up their daughter's ashes, Medina and Martinez discovered the business had been closed.
Frantically, they began making phone calls.
They finally connected with Dost, who eventually admitted he had scattered the ashes in Edworthy Park.
"He never even said sorry," said Medina. "I was so upset, I felt like I failed her one more time … for me, it was losing her one more time."
Parents worried ashes ended up in garbage
In a second conversation, Martinez says he asked Dost for Alana's teddy bear, which had been kept with the urn.
The parents say the former owner told them he had thrown the teddy bear with the ashes by the bridge next to Angels Cafe.
According to the civil claim, Dost said he had tried to contact the parents, and when he couldn't, decided to scatter the ashes.
But Medina and Martinez are concerned that's not what actually happened.
"We don't believe he did that, and what I honestly think is that he just threw them in the garbage or the toilet," said Medina.
'We just want to know what happened to her'
Martinez is angry his wife has suffered so much.
As they learned about the ashes, they also learned they were pregnant again.
Medina was terrified and initially couldn't come to terms with her pregnancy.
"I was feeling like I was going to fail her … like I wasn't woman enough to look after my kids."
Tessa was born in 2019. She's now two years old.
"We don't want your money," said Medina as though she was speaking to Dost.
"We just want to know what happened to her, and we would love to recover the teddy bear, but I know that's impossible now."