- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Sheri Grell of Upper Marlboro said she wants nothing more than to bury her son’s remains in her family burial plot in Nevada, but at the moment she is struggling to even bring his body home to the United States.
Grell’s son, David Woolman, 23, died on Thursday in China, where he has taught English to elementary school students for 11 months. She has yet to find out the cause of his death and right now only knows that his body is being kept at a funeral home in Hangzhou. A family friend who lives in that area and a branch of her church currently stationed in China confirmed the body is Woolman’s, and Grell has spent the last two days and last night on the phone with the office of the American Embassy’s Consulate General in Shanghai trying to sort out her options.
Initially she was told she had within six days to pay more than $12,000 to transport Woolman’s body home, before the Hangzhou funeral home cremated him. But now, she said, she has been told she has an extension, though she is not sure how long, and that now she must come up with $18,000, as the initial estimate for transportation expenses has climbed. In addition, she has to pay $17 for every day his body remains stored at the funeral home.
Grell said she doesn’t have that kind of money, and the family’s Mormon faith frowns heavily on cremation, so she still wishes to retrieve her son’s remains in one piece to be buried with the rest of their loved ones.
“Any donations we can get to bring my son home, I would be so grateful,” Grell said, adding that she has set up two accounts to which people can donate: her PayPal account: firstname.lastname@example.org, and Wells Fargo bank account No. 6888140321, titled “Deborah Payne for David Woolman.” Payne is Woolman’s grandmother, she said. “If 18,000 people give one dollar, we will have enough money to bring my son home.”
As of the end of the day Thursday, Grell said she had about $3,000 raised already, with help from Nevada citizens, after she and her sister contacted the media there. Now she is reaching out to her local community, where she has lived for more than a year now. The family has spent the past 19 years traveling due to her husband Peter’s work in the Navy.
Any additional donations she receives she plans to donate, she said, though she has yet to decide on a charity.
According to an email from the American Embassy in China, U.S. law prohibits it from disclosing any information regarding an American citizen to outside sources. However, the email said the office was working with the family.
In an email from a U.S. State Department, an official wrote that the department had confirmed Woolman’s death in China and extended its condolences to the family. That office is working with the family as well.
“I’m in desperation,” Grell said. “It’s not about funeral expenses. I have enough for that. It’s just about getting his remains back and putting him to rest.”
Woolman’s biological father, Walter, also has set up a fund seeking donations, she said.
“We’re all working together,” she said. “I’m just so grateful for the kind hearts of people.”
Grell has three other children, and Woolman has several stepsiblings, Grell said, though Woolman was her oldest and lived ambitiously. He had a love of languages, and was fluent in Mandarin Chinese, Russian, Spanish and Japanese, she said, adding that as soon as he finished college in California he took the job in China.
“I was so proud of the fact that he was able to go and teach,” Grell said. “He was getting the experience of a lifetime.”
Grell said Woolman had the “absolute best personality. He was a jokester. From the time he was little, he used to do funny things.”
Once, at her aunt’s house, Woolman noticed the TV was dusty, so he picked up her aunt’s fluffy dog “and he dusted the TV with the dog,” Grell laughed. She also remembered fondly a time when he told his little brother, Edward Garcia, to jump in a mud puddle, and the puddle went up to the boy’s waist.
“He didn’t take things too seriously,” Grell said. “Now the final lesson he’s teaching me, even in death, is he’s restoring my faith in humanity. I’m starting to see more kindness in people than I’ve ever seen in my entire life.”