Funeral feud in La Feria leaves body unburied, estranged husband blamed

Heavenly Grace Memorial Park in La Feria is where funeral services should have already taken place for Patricia Vela-Pena who died Friday, September 7th.

Instead the 44-year-old cancer victim's body remains unburied, her family unable to properly say goodbye to the one they love.

"We want closure," Marta Ortega, niece of the deceased said. "We need closure."

The funeral home has been paid in full to the tune of nearly $6,000.

What's missing is a key signature from Patricia's estranged husband to release the body.

"It's out of spite to hurt the family," Elizabeth Leal, cousin of the deceased said. "He is hurting the family."

Patricia's family says she's been estranged from her husband Roman Pena since around the time of her cancer diagnosis last May.

The former Marine and Gulf War veteran allegedly suffers from mental problems and is accused of abusing Patricia toward the end of their brief marriage.

They're allegations Roman denies.

"She was my first and I was her first, in everything, from holding hands to kisses," he said.

Roman wants his late wife buried at a veteran TMs cemetery in Mission for when he passes away.

"They don't want me to be buried next to her, that's their problem," he explained. "I don't know why or what."

Patricia's niece Marta Ortega explains why the family is in limbo.

"His legal right is to bury her where he wants her and he wanted the Veterans Memorial in Mission," she said. "But he didn't have the money. We had already paid for everything here."

When it comes to final preparations, experts say it's almost always the spouse that gets the final say.

It was back in July when Heavenly Grace Memorial Park workers first informed the family that without a divorce decree, it would be the husband in this case that would get the final say.

HGMP's Vice President Bert Keyes feels terrible the funeral home can't put Patricia to rest in the manner she deserves.

They're simply following the law, according to him.

Bert has advice for other families across the Rio Grande Valley.

"Please go out, take the time when you're 50, 60 years old to make these plans so they're not something that will jump up and surprise you," Bert said.

Patricia's family thought a Living Will would be enough, but the paperwork didn't meet the legal requirements to supersede a spouse.

"We want people to know to get your paperwork in order, do your arrangements, so you don't go through what we're going through," Marta said.

The family is forced to hold a private rosary so relatives from out of town will be to pay their final respects.

Funeral home administrators say they TMre doing everything they can to help facilitate a quick resolution.

They say the body can be held for more than a month.

Roman told Action 4 News that he would only sign the paperwork to turn the body if her family would allow him to attend services and to be buried next to Patricia when he dies.Click here to join Ryan Wolf TMs Facebook pageClick here to follow Ryan Wolf on Twitter