A couple of summers ago, after years of procrastination, I got a lawyer to help me rewrite my will. We also drafted a power of attorney for money matters and a health care advance directive.
One of the reasons I had been procrastinating was that I wanted to write a novella-length response to every item in the health care advance directive. The lawyer helped me narrow my options, and though I still have second thoughts about some of them, I have so far managed not to re-open that can of worms.
Another reason I procrastinated was that I couldn’t decide where – or even if – I want to be buried when I die. That question remains unaddressed.
When I was younger, I thought I’d ask for a simple burial, no embalming, no lead casket, just let my physical self return to the earth where it (partly) came from. In more recent years, with adult children who have scattered and no clear sense of a home place, I haven’t been so sure. If burial, then yes, it should be simple. But if not burial, maybe cremation? Or maybe one of these newfangled alternatives?
I still can’t decide.
I am fascinated by cemeteries. When I visit my home town in Ohio, where some of my family still live, I always make a trek to the cemeteries. Some of my people are Italian immigrants or their descendants; they’re in the Catholic cemetery in town. Others – the “old American” ones – are scattered around the rural areas of the county. One is a Revolutionary War veteran. Others “removed” to Ohio from Connecticut when northeastern Ohio was “unbroken wilderness,” as one of my family’s genealogy books says. They all have stories: early deaths, at least one suicide, blended families, long grudges, neighbors who stepped in when tragedy struck. Many are veterans; one died in Korea in 1952.
Adam Silverman touched on these matters in a recent Balloon Juice post about bomb threats at Jewish community centers and vandalism at a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis. The whole post is worth a look, but this paragraph in particular spoke to my dilemma:
I cannot emphasize enough just how bad this is. Not the property damage, in and of itself that’s bad, but because ground that has been the site of violence cannot be sanctified/re-sanctified. Provided that this is just cosmetic damage to the headstones – defacing, being knocked over, etc – there should be no problem. But if the graves themselves have been desecrated, then it will require reburials and the spaces will never be able to be reused as Judaism prohibits reusing a grave. This means that if someone has to be reburied in another plot, then the final resting place and marker/memorial will either be away from the remainder of their relations graves or everyone will have to be relocated. [jm: my emphasis, and one typo correction.] This is not only traumatic for the living, but becomes prohibitively expensive to deal with.
The part about valuing burial among one’s relations echoes strongly for me, and yet I don’t really belong out there in Ohio. I left when I was eighteen to indulge my extreme math nerdiness (this part was deliberate) and to discover that I was gay (this part was a surprise).
I never went back. On the other hand, though I am utterly at home in the landscape of my adopted home state of Maine, I don’t have any family ties here.
It’s a dilemma that I may end up passing on to my kids. But in the meantime, I’m curious:
What are the death customs in the culture/religion you identify with, or that you simply prefer for whatever reason? Do you have plans, or will you leave your heirs to decide? Do you like cemeteries or avoid them? Have you ever scattered anyone’s ashes? (I haven’t, but I’ve helped bury my uncle’s.)
How would you feel about being buried far from “home” – whatever home means to you? I’m thinking of the World War I dead in France and Belgium, or the ANZAC soldiers buried at Gallipoli, or the uncounted wanderers who have had to leave their original homes for whatever reason.
What do you-all think?
The grave of one of my thirty-two four-greats-grandfathers, who is buried in Ohio and would be my ticket into the DAR if I wanted one: