Here’s a question I got from a teenager:
My mom is Jewish, my dad is Catholic, and my brother and I were raised Jewish. Last month they told us they had recently written their ethical wills and each plan to be buried in the cemetery of their own faith. I was so stunned that I said nothing. I just assumed my parents would be buried side by side! I’m mad at them, even though I know it is their decision. I’m hurt and feel like they didn’t even consider how this could impact their children. My brother is upset, too, but he is very quiet and would never speak up. What should I do? — Hurt Daughter
Dear Hurt Daughter: I’m so sorry you learned this in such a startling way. It’s hard to think about losing parents, and their news complicates your pain. Yes, your parents do get to make their own end-of-life plans, but I suspect they didn’t think about it from your perspective. It sounds like they simply announced their plans with the intention of giving you and your brother a heads-up. Since you did not respond in the moment, they probably assumed everything was fine.
You should definitely discuss this with them, and it would be best if you and your brother did so together. You could use the moral support, and he could use the practice speaking up about his feelings. I suggest the two of you share with each other how you feel and what is most painful about this news. Then consider what you wish would happen. Hard as it is, imagine what you would want at that difficult time when one of your parents dies. Do you both hope a rabbi would be there to give comfort? Would a rabbi be a comfort to your dad if your mother should go first, or would he want Christian clergy?
I got an immediate response from an adult who wanted me to tell this young person that she needed to respect her parents’ wishes. It sounded to me like a knee jerk response of an individual who is afraid they might be somehow in the wrong and they couldn’t bear it. Of course this young woman’s feeling matter. This is not a question of her respect for her parents, it is about her love and fear of losing them. I encourage interfaith couples to talk to their children — especially about things that are potentially painful – like death.