But that wasn't the only problem.
Cohn said that when family members tried to retrieve Fais' body, they learned that it had been cremated. That discovery, he said, compounded an already upsetting situation, since Fais did not want to be cremated.
``I don't know words in the English language that can describe the shock,'' Cohn said of the reaction of Fais' sisters - Wyka, who lives in Clifton, N.J.; and Marie Joline of Florida.
Gerald P. Tyne, a lawyer for Fais' widow, said Anna Fais discovered the problem when she arrived at the funeral home on Dec. 20, shortly before the viewing was to have begun.
He said Anna Fais knelt down to say a prayer in front of the casket, looked up, and immediately realized that the body was not that of her husband, a retired Bergenfield public-works employee who had died of heart problems.
``It's just indescribable,'' Tyne said of the widow's reaction. ``She basically is shocked.''
Cohn said the funeral director, informed by family members that the body was not their brother's, removed a sock from the body and showed them that the toe tag said ``George Fais.''
The family persisted, Cohn said, and eventually it was determined that the hospital morgue had ``made a mistake'' and ``mistagged'' the two bodies. He said the casket was closed, and a memorial service was held the next day.
Tyne said that George Fais, a devout Catholic, did not want to be cremated. He said that the incident amounted to ``gross negligence'' and that Anna Fais has not decided whether to initiate a lawsuit.
``At the present time, she's too distraught to give me a decision,'' Tyne said.
The hospital issued a statement calling the mishap a ``tragic situation. There is no excuse for an error of this type happening. Senior Medical Center executives have spoken with the families to personally express the Medical Center's regrets and apologies.
``An investigation into the circumstances that led to our error has been underway. And appropriate action will be taken.''