A WHEELCHAIR-bound elderly woman was forced to watch workers fill in her husband's grave after a taxi communication mix-up left her stranded at the Swan Hill Memorial Park Cemetery last month.
Rob Presley, the son of the 90-year-old widow, whose name has been withheld on request, said they waited more than an hour-and-a-half in "stifling" heat for the pre-arranged taxi service to appear, before giving up and "manhandling" the widow into a sedan.
The Guardian understands the cab's absence was due to a miscommunication between the call centre and the drivers in town.
Mr Presley said his mother was so distressed by the incident on October 16, she asked to be returned to her Swan Hill nursing home rather than attending the wake at the Swan Hill Club.
"Dad passed away and mum is wheelchair dependent and in an aged care facility, so when the funeral arrangements were made we knew we needed a wheelchair service for mum. I decided I would ring the company at around 10am on the Monday, the day of, so the person who would be driving the wheelchair taxi was on duty and would actually get it straight, so I called the taxi service," he said.
Speaking to an operator of Swan Hill Taxi Cabs, Mr Presley said he was assured the arrangements were in place and they could go ahead.
The grandmother was picked up from her nursing home by a taxi, escorted by her nephew Steph Presley, and taken to the Grain Shed in time for the 1.30pm funeral.
"That happened no problem. The arrangements agreed to by the taxi company at the time was that we would be picked up again at around 2pm to go to the cemetery because you can't hold the hearse up," he said.
At 2pm on the dot, halfway through the Lord's Prayer, Mr Presley said the taxi driver rang him three times to say he was out the front.
"We hung up the phone because we didn't need a phone call in the middle of the Lord's Prayer in the middle of the funeral," he said.
The driver rang again at 2.01pm and 2.02 pm, according to Mr Presley's call log.
The taxi driver was waiting outside after the service and proceeded to take the widow and her nephew to the cemetery.
"The instructions for the arrangements with the taxi company that morning were that we wanted the taxi to wait at the cemetery because shortly after maybe 10 or 15 minutes of the service we will need a ride to the Swan Hill Club, and of course we will pay on the meter because we're asking the driver to stay," he said.
Mr Presley said this was where the problems started.
"My nephew paid the driver at the delivery to the cemetery, which was probably a mistake and the driver left, which was confusing," he said.
After the graveside service, Mr Presley said he rang the taxi company at 2.46 pm to have the car sent back.
"They didn't turn up. I rang again and again and because I had the driver's number in my phone from when he rang me, I rang him and it immediately went to voicemail," he said.
Three phone calls later at 3.05pm, Mr Presley said the family was assured the driver was five minutes away.
"You're next, it'll be five minutes and 20 minutes later when I called back she talked to her supervisor and was a bit distressed as well."
Mr Presley said the last call he made to the company was at 3.32pm.
"The funeral director had cemetery staff waiting there with a front end loader to back fill dad's grave, so we took mum over, put her in the shade of a tree and stood around, just trying to be in the road. The cemetery staff had a timetable and they needed to do what they needed to do," he said.
The family gave up hope just before 4pm, with a family member returning in a sedan and Steph Presley lifting the widow into the car.
"We asked her what she wanted to do and she said she wanted to go back to the nursing home because she didn't want to be an inconvenience to anyone any further," Mr Presley said.
His sister, Joy Pohlner, said she spoke to her mother the following day.
"She's pretty shaken up, she's never been one to make a fuss, but the next day she was bad," she said.
"Over the phone I was talking to her and you didn't know if she was there or not, she was very vague, it was a lot of shock and trauma and she just lost her husband of nearly 70 years," she said.
Swan Hill Taxi Cabs declined to comment.
To read more about this story, grab a copy of Friday's Guardian (November 10).