Families struggle with final expenses after tragic deaths

Higginsville, Mo. -- It`s a cost no one expected when planning their Branson trip: funeral expenses.  Caskets, cremation, and transporting bodies back home -  it all costs.

The Bright family in Higginsville has been struggling to figure out how pay the bills  to get Bill and Jan back home.

You can see Bill and Jan Bright are all around the Higginsville home.  They`re in the frames on the wall, usually photographed with some of their 16 (soon to be 17) grandchildren.

Jan is in the collection of teddy bears by the dining room.  "She collected teddy bears," her sister-in-law Karen Abbott explained.

Bill is in the empty chair next to the Fender guitar standing in a corner.  "His guitars," Abbott said with a smile.  "He was fanatical about music, he loved music."

Abbott sits in the middle of all the memories, in Bill's chair.  She wishes she wasn't there at all.

"I just keep waiting for someone to say it's a mistake," she said. "That they were misidentified, that they're really just fine, and that they'll be home soon."

Abbott lives about two hours away from Branson and that fateful Duck Boat.  As soon as she learned of the accident, and that it was her brother, she rushed.  First, to the coroner.

"They brought me out a sack and two bags of clothing," she remembered.  "The sack had my brother's name on it, and his wallet and his ID."

From there, it was onto his car, still parked in the Ride The Ducks business parking lot.  Bill's car was covered with flowers in a make-shift memorial.  Then, north to Higginsville, to help Bill and Jan`s three daughters.

"That was my priority," said Abbott, "to get up here to my three nieces. Because I always promised my brother that if something happened to him, I would be here for them."

Abbott pulled out a wedding album.  She made it for the Bright's 45th wedding anniversary, which was last month.  She pointed out Bill, Jan, her parents, and herself.  She was already planning how to celebrate the Bright's 50th anniversary.

Now, she's helping plan their funeral.  The Brights lived paycheck to paycheck, and they had no life insurance.  "We're just common American people," she said. "We don't have big bank accounts, we don't have money to fall back on. We're just the people who go to work every day and pay our mortgages and pay our bills and do what we have to do."

On Sunday afternoon, a single phone call helped her plans.

Fox4 provided Abbott with contract information for a Branson business raising money for victims' families.  By late Sunday afternoon, the burden was lifted.  The owner of Hurt's Donuts contacted Abbott, and now Abbott has been told the cost to transport the bodies of her brother and sister-in-law will be taken care of, and her funeral expenses will be reimbursed.

So now the focus is now back on Bill and Jan.  Abbott says when they were found, they were together, "holding one another.  That's what the sergeant told me when they were found together.  And I can't imagine it any other way."

It is now Abbott's mission to make sure they're together, forever.