It is a GRAVE Matter…Really

6 Jan

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My parents and grandparents are all together.

Over the years I have avoided one important part of my estate planning.  Buying a gravesite for my husband and for me.

I know this is important. But the thought of buying a grave made me sad.  I do not know why. My parents planned ahead. They purchased their graves as part of a family plot in New Jersey. In this same shared area rest all four of my grandparents, my parents and my aunts and uncles on my dad’s side.  When I was a child, no one was buried there. Unfortunately, now all but one of the assigned graves are now filled. 

At the time the graves were purchased, only my two uncles’ names were placed on the contract, as the cemetery would not allow  three names to be on it.  This left my father out. It was not a big deal until my mom died, and we found out that we had no authority to open her grave.  Same thing with my dad.  Luckily we are a close family and my cousins immediately did all that needed to be done. In fact my one cousin went out of his way to help all the cousins as he not only arranged for us to purchase perpetual care for the graves, he has also kept close watch on the care.  When we suffered the loss of our parents and his mother within a year, it was this cousin who made sure the that all three stones were placed properly. We are so thankful for his concern. As we suffered multiple losses that year.

Every year when I go back east, my sister and I make a pilgrimage to the cemetery.  Besides visiting all of our relatives, we take a short stroll to the resting place of my cousin’s other grandparents and relatives.  They are all so close together.  Remembering to bring the correct number of stones, is the hardest part.

Across from our parents, my sister and brother have a resting spot that includes their spouses. Unfortunately one grave is already occupied.   In fact it was this death about five years ago that started my quest and my inquiries about cemeteries.  But it has not been easy for me.

It was convenient for my siblings to buy for all of them as they  live in New Jersey.  But for me it is different.  My husband is from Missouri, and we live in Kansas. We have no family here.  Our daughter lives out of the country. And though our son lives near us now, who knows where he will end up.  So we have been indecisive about what to do.

Where should we eventually be buried?  OY! The best was to ignore this nagging and difficult choice.

This fall one of my close friends, a walking buddy, spent an entire walk telling me about the arrangements she and her husband recently made for their final home.  She also wanted to be sure her children would have no worries. The decision is made and paid for in advance.  It made me start thinking about our grave matter once again.

To be honest my husband does not care where we end up.  “When we are dead we are dead,” he says. “It won’t matter to us at all.”   But I think it will matter to our children if they do not have to worry about this decision in the midst of emotional turmoil.  It is hard enough when a parent dies without having to make this decision as well.  I knew my obsession had to be dealt with when I found myself reading the cemetery plot ads in the Jewish Forward.  That was a bit too much even for me.

As I am interested in genealogy, it was important to me that  our descendants  to be able to find us. I have seen the joy of discovery as people find the graves of their grandparents, great grandparents and even further back. It is so wonderful to have these in one place. So even though we belong to two synagogues, and we could buy plots in their cemeteries,  I do not want to be alone, away from everyone. It might be crazy, but that is how I feel.

The issue came to a head this past November, when my husband’s stepmother died.  She always planned to be buried on one side of my husband’s dad.  He and his first wife, my husband’s mother, are already buried there, as well as my husband’s grandparents. But things did not go as plannned.  Even though there are four empty graves in the plot, my father in law had never designated her to be buried there.  And with my father in law and his brother both deceased, the four plots are owned by the five adults in the next generation.  Since we are out of contact with my husband’s cousins, we were not allowed to bury her in this grave. It made for a tense few days. But the cemetery’s executive director would not  allow it.  (We assume the cemetery must have had lawsuits in the past over similar issues! )

No matter,  she had to be buried in a different cemertary.   But at least it was with her family. A cousin of hers who had purchased multiple plots donated one to her.   I was glad she was not alone.

This situation, the days of trying to figure out what would happen, increased my determination that our children should not have to deal with the issue of a grave site.  I was so upset. I do not want my children worrying about where to bury me. I want it settled.

But now I had a plan.  It is stupid for us to go to New Jersey especially since there are four perfectly good plots in St. Louis.   I am on a mission.  I am working with the cemetery to track down my husband’s first cousins.  It seems we are all joint owners of these four graves. I want two of these plots. It is stupid for them to stay empty when they can be used.

Even the woman I am working with at the cemetery agrees it is foolish to leave them unused.  But she says it happens often. Families drift apart and move away.  The original owner is long dead.  And the ownership continues to pass on to the next generation involving more and more descendants. And the cemetery is stuck, unable to let anyone use the graves.

Well one thing I have learned through my interest in genealogy, and my great contacts on the “Tracing the Tribe Facebook” group, research.  The person at the cemetery told me she could not find my husband’s cousins.  I took that as a challenge.  Within 90 minutes I had their names, their spouses’ names and the names of their children.  I have sent that information on to the cemetery’s office for them to be contacted.  (My research did remind me that my father in law and his brother died just over a month apart.  Even though they had not spoken to each other in perhaps 25 years, they had this connection: One died two weeks before 9/11 and one three weeks after. )

I have another back up plan as well.  My sister in law in St. Louis also has a group plot with her brothers and parents. When I unloaded my stress over finding a grave, she told me that they had some extra plots.  “You probably could buy two plots from us, if that would make me feel better and calm you down,” she laughed as she made this suggestion.  But my loving niece understands.  She promised me that she would come to visit ” her crazy aunt” in St. Louis.

My new year’s resolution for 2017:  I am focusing on resolving this grave matter.   I hope to find my husband’s cousins and come to an agreement about the graves.  Or purchase two plots from my sister in law’s family.  It is my resolution to buy two graves…   NOT that I want to use them anytime soon.
Update: we have two graves with my sister in law and her family in the St Louis area. I am at peace. My children will have an easier time with this knowledge. 

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7 Responses to “It is a GRAVE Matter…Really”

  1. Bev Newman January 7, 2017 at 4:02 pm #

    Ellen, Peter and I bought two graves at Mt. Carmel–Beth Shalom’s Cemetery at least 35-40 years ago. They had a sale, and Peter decided to buy two graves. I have one child here in Overland Park and one in Las Vegas. I keep reminding both of my children that no matter where we end up–here or Las Vegas, we want to be buried in our plots at Mt. Carmel. I understand your concerns. I am so glad I do not have to deal with this.
    Bev

    • zicharon January 7, 2017 at 4:07 pm #

      Thanks Bev. It is a hard decision. One we have been pondering for years. This is my year to do something!! I hope we are all around for a long time!

  2. Michael Blum January 7, 2017 at 11:31 pm #

    Although Jenifer and I bought several plots in the Beth Torah section at Mt Moriah year ago, our plans changed.
    Jenifer’s family are almost all buried in an old cemetery in Dallas. Aunts, Uncles, Grandparents, etc are are in one area. When someone is buried or when we go to visit, Jenifer goes on a fabulous journey remembering all the great relatives.
    So we did some research, communicated with some cousins our age and ended up buying 14 spaces near all these old relatives. We were only the facilitators of these spaces, but got a deal for buying so many and are looking forward to “our generation” being buried close together here in Dallas.
    what will we do with our spaces in KC? Probable donate them to the Congregation for someone less fortunate.
    As chairperson for Beth Torah’s cemetery, I learned a lot about cemetery space, funerals, burials, etc…Planning ahead is number one.
    While I understand Bev’s comment about her spaces at Mt. Carmel…realistically, her kids, our kids will make the final decision.
    I, like Jay, do not really care where…but the key is to make it easier for the children if something unexpected were to occur.
    Glad you are back safely from your Israel sojourn…now for you to settle in for hard work after January 20th!
    A Happy New Year!

    • zicharon January 7, 2017 at 11:34 pm #

      I think being with either my family or jays would be fine. But as you said. It is the planning ahead that is important!

  3. Amy January 8, 2017 at 7:55 am #

    I’m in foolish denial about the whole mortality thing. Strange, given how much time I spend with dead people! But my husband assures me that we will be okay because as a former president of our synagogue, he is assured of a spot in the synagogue cemetery, and I assume he will get to provide one for me as well!

    • zicharon January 8, 2017 at 7:58 am #

      I would check to be sure. The woman I am working with told me to get everything in writing. So you might have him contact them and get it in writing!

      • Amy January 8, 2017 at 8:05 am #

        OK, I will add that to the list of things to do this year…. Thanks!

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