Is it OK to leave decisions about burial to our kids?

Dear Dawn: I read where you said that parents should decide how they want to be buried and tell their children. That all sounds good, but my wife is Catholic and determined to be buried in a church cemetery. I’m Jewish and I really don’t care where I’m buried, except that I do not want to be in a church cemetery. My wife wants me to be buried with her, so I’ve told our kids to do whatever they want, but not that. This is just irresolvable, so our kids will have to decide. I do intend to leave them sufficient funds to cover the costs. Won’t that be enough? My kids are already in their late 20s.
— Not Planning to Die Anytime Soon


Dear Not Planning to Die: In a word, no, that will not be enough. What you are saying is that because it is too difficult for you and your wife to resolve your differences you are going to force your children to be the fall guys. It doesn’t matter what their age is now or how old they are when you die; they will feel the pressure to come up with an answer that their own parents could not find.

If you predecease your wife she, not your children, will be in charge. She may very well choose to bury you in her church’s cemetery. Since you are making no plans, not buying a plot or choosing a cemetery, all these decisions will be dropped very suddenly on your widow. It will probably be most comfortable and comforting to her to have you buried in the cemetery where she plans to be laid to rest. If you’ve already told your kids, “anything but that” it has the potential to cause tremendous strife.

You need to express why you say you don’t care about where you are buried except that you refuse to be in a churchyard. Why not discuss this with a rabbi and then with a priest. I’m sure they have seen this before. Maybe they will give you both insight into the conflict you are setting up.

Have you and your wife discussed a non-denominational cemetery? Have you talked about who each of you would like to have officiate at your funeral? What end-of-life rituals do you want — a mass for her and shiva for you? Who will be attending these events? Your children? Do they know about mass and shiva?

While I understand and respect your separate desires to have each of your own traditions upheld, please remember that mourning practices are there to comfort the mourners. You’ll be gone, but your children will be suffering that loss. What would comfort them? Is “doing your wishes” sufficient solace to them? If you are each going to have traditions from your own heritage, also talk about what you think will comfort your children: Catholic or Jewish practices? Or both? Ask your children and listen to their answers.

If you are not able to communicate with your wife, I suggest you try going to a therapist. Note that if she predeceases you, you will have to go to the church for her funeral, and to a church cemetery for her burial and visits to her grave. It doesn’t sound like you have really considered all the consequences of this conflict.

If you are ultimately unable to come to any agreement with your wife, you need to be completely honest with your children. You and their mother should sit them down and explain why each of you feels as you do. Tell them as best you can why your wife wants to be buried in a churchyard and why you adamantly refuse. Acknowledge that this is a problem of your making and that, although you regret it, you are making it their problem.

If you make no plans at all and your wife is gone, your children may very well have you cremated or simply buried with their mother. (Did you know that bodies in graves can be stacked? So you could end up buried on top of your wife.)

If you truly don’t care, then just let go of any preconceived ideas about the end of your life. If you do care, then take responsibility and buy a grave, tell your kids about it and accept that you and your wife have chosen to take your own paths. Just please don’t burden your children with serious and emotional decisions that will have to be made at one of the most painful times in their lives.

(Originally published in the J-Weekly in the column Mixed and Matched)