There are two kinds of people… at least where death is concerned: those who like to talk about it, and those who don’t.
My husband is reluctant to speak about it. He is the fun one, after all. And death, while possibly funny, is, I think we all can agree, not fun.
Whenever you pass away, practical matters remain for your family to sort out; however, certain choices and actions can be taken ahead of time, lightening the burden for your children. For me, that would mean that all arrangements would be made for my burial plot. That would also mean that my spouse and I had discussed and agreed upon these arrangements—a challenging undertaking for us.
In the early years of our marriage there was a presumption on my husband’s part that he would be cremated like his father had been and as his mother intends. I was somewhat taken aback by this plan, finding it both unappealing (not that death in any form is appealing) and foreign. I do not want to be transformed into a pile of ashes upon my demise; certainly, no Jewish person I knew or knew of had chosen this method. Was it even allowed? Moreover, as a post-Holocaust Jew, cremation held a particular dark significance.
Eventually, my husband accepted the idea of a traditional Jewish burial. But another obstacle popped up—where? Naturally, I want to be buried in the cemetery where my mother, father, sister, our baby who was born still, aunts, uncles, and family friends are. But my husband has a different idea. He prefers the Jewish cemetery that is situated directly across from a popular outdoor shopping mall and entertainment complex. Location, location, location.
His thinking goes something along the lines of how much more likely it would be for our kids to visit us if we were buried in this cemetery. They could combine an outing to the movies, the bookstore, shopping, and/or the deli with a stop at the neighboring cemetery. Quite a field trip! Yes, it’s true that this cemetery is located in a more convenient suburb with more to do in the surrounding area. It’s also true that at this point in our conversations (there were several), I would feel ready to kill my beloved husband and then, of course, I would be able to make all pertinent decisions.
While I am not opposed to the idea of my children and grandchildren gathering around our graves with prayers and reminiscences, I know what my relationship with the cemetery and my late parents has been. I often think about my mother and father in my daily life—their memories truly are a blessing. They continue to be a source of inspiration for me in everything from cooking to parenting to writing. And although their physical remains are in the cemetery, and I concede that there is something sacred about that space, I feel no closer to them in the cemetery than I do elsewhere. In fact, I might feel the separation more keenly in the cemetery.
For these reasons, I visit the cemetery infrequently, although I have no judgment about those who find comfort and meaning there. On the other hand, I never miss lighting Yahrtzheit candles for my family on the anniversary of their deaths and on Yom Kippur. I imagine this is because I vividly recall my mother lovingly and consistently performing this ritual.
When I do visit the cemetery, I always have trouble finding my parents’ (and my sister’s) graves. This is so, even though I am sure that the next time I will remember the family name on the large gravestone near them or where they are in relation to a bench or tree or the pond. Each time I wander around feeling pathetic, my hand tightly clutching stones I have picked up on the road, shoes sinking into the soft ground, looking at the engraved names of other people’s departed family members. I have lost my mom and dad and the symbolism is not lost on me.
After my husband and I are gone, I hope that our family will share memories and find appropriate ways to honor and celebrate our lives. I don’t think that the likelihood of that happening will increase if we are buried a little closer to their homes or near a favorite restaurant. Actually, I am reminded of a quote by Susan Sarandon’s character in “Stepmom”: You can miss me, and you can take me with you. That’s how people go on forever, you know…because somebody takes them along.
One thing my husband and I could agree on is that we will feel better when we resolve this issue and no longer have to revisit it. Then we can go back to creating lasting memories.