How do I respond to my adult children's objections to burying my husband's ashes at Arlington vs. the local cemetery (that is out of my price comfort level). My husband served 2 years as LCMC.
[Admininstrators note: Related questions are found on Jewish Values Online here:
I recommend that you begin by focusing on the most important element of this situation, having a positive relationship with your adult children. The emotional cost of responding by overriding their objections is the expense to be concerned with here. So begin by exploring their objections – what feelings about their father are wrapped up in their concerns? Even as a new widow, you are still their mother and they are likely to need your care and listening, just as you might welcome theirs. They might come to the point of removing their objections, or creative options might emerge from a healthy process. It is a healthy process and sustaining important living relationships that matter most at this time.
Your fiscal concerns are important, prioritizing funds for your life is quite reasonable. Most likely there is more going on for you, too. What feelings do you have about the location and process for interring his ashes? Were his years of LCMC service an important part of his life story? Does Arlington resonate as meaningful in the overall picture of his life? Is most of the family buried together and will an Arlington burial disrupt a pattern appreciated by the family? Has cremation led to a loss of the traditional Jewish ritual-fullness that supports healthy mourning? Or was a memorial service and shiva undertaken? Might some form of memorial ritual and mourning practice be helpful at this point?
To lower the level of conflict and avert long-term hard feelings, listen for your children's feelings and reflect back what you hear, non-judgmentally. Invite them to do the same for you. Then quietly, each person makes a list of options that could work well to meet everyone's needs. For example, these adult children might be able to understand your fiscal concerns and offer to share in offsetting the costs of burying the ashes. Or brainstorming might lead to placing the ashes in your garden and buying a bench with a plaque in his memory. There are a vast number of creative possibilities for addressing the feelings underlying the overt issues of "where" and "how much." Clarity of what is really needed is needed comes from identifying and meeting the needs of all of the primary mourners. However rational the fiscal issues might seem, the emotional issues are not rational, they are simply real and very important.
Talking with them about the music he loved, vignettes from his life, getting together to look at family pictures and then, exploring the interment options, if possible, could be helpful. Focus on relationship building, and the holy process of integrating his loss.
You might find it easiest to do this exploration with a well-trained grief counselor or Jewish chaplain/rabbi present in a supportive role with bias towards no single member of the family's concerns, opinion or needs. Or, your family might be strong and kind enough to process this together. I want to emphasize "process" versus the term you supplied "respond"—relationships are a process and maintaining healthy loving connections for the hopefully many years to come is the most important consideration in the scenario you have presented, IMHO.
I am sorry for your loss. This must be a truly difficult time for you and your family.
The place of K’vod ha-Met (Respect of the Dead) holds a cherished position in Judaism. As a matter of fact, the respect of the deceased is so important that other extremely significant religious practices are held in abeyance until the deceased is properly cared for.
The major example given in rabbinic sources is when a Kohen (a Jew of Kohanic or priestly parentage) comes across a Met Mitzvah—one who has died and there are no others present to deal with the corpse. Under normal circumstances, a Kohen is never allowed to ritually defile himself by being in the presence of a human corpse. The noted exception is when dealing with his own seven nearest relatives, as are enumerated in Jewish sources.
The Halakhah—Jewish Law is very specific as to a husband’s or wife’s responsibilities towards their spouse in the event of their passing. These obligations include: what one may or may not do until the actual burial takes place, the preparation of the body for burial, the casket, and place of burial and mourning procedures. In actuality, the rules are far more involved than I am presenting here, due to the format of this response online.
As a retired career United States Navy Chaplain, I am quite familiar on a first hand basis with burial in a military cemetery versus a local Jewish cemetery. There are different approaches taken by Jewish Chaplains as is the case in many other areas of Judaism. If I had not served in the military chaplaincy and been called upon to deal directly with many unusual circumstances, I would most likely be adamantly opposed to anyone entertaining the possibility of a Jewish burial outside of a dedicated Jewish cemetery. Nevertheless, I approach these matters as well as others from the standpoint of traditional Halakhic observance.
You mentioned in your question that you wish to bury your husband’s ashes. At the outset, traditionally, this is problematic. Cremation is extremely frowned upon by tradition and traditionally observant Jews. It is a question of what is termed Nibul ha-Met—a desecration of the deceased. This is all the more so as we live in the aftermath of the Shoah—the Holocaust, involving the incineration of millions of Jews.
Of course, it is well known that many Jews have been and continue to be cremated, and there is no intention of desecration on the part of loved ones, nonetheless, as one of my teachers has pointed out, Jews have their own sense of aesthetics and their own rootedness in what is perceived as right or wrong.
This is not a matter of ‘following the wishes’ of the deceased, rather following the hallowed tradition of the Jewish people; thus believing that one would always desire to do the right thing, if only the right thing were presented to them earlier, in the proper spirit.
This means that each and every Jew truly desires in his or her heart of hearts to do the right thing.
Assuming that the cremation has already taken place and that the question is “what do we do with the ‘cremains’ (ashes)? “ Here the question is again the overarching one—K’vod ha-Met—Respect of the Dead. In this instance, is it respectful to be buried in either an exclusively Jewish local cemetery or in an inclusive national cemetery such as Arlington National Cemetery?
Some have raised serious questions, whether or not it is appropriate to perform a Jewish funeral—L’va-yah—in a mixed national cemetery. Direction in this matter has been given through the JWB - Jewish Chaplains Council, originally composed of Orthodox, Conservative and Reform rabbis. In this manner, permission was granted for burial in military cemeteries. The individual grave is designated and dedicated as its own Jewish plot.
This is by no means an easy situation; however, while the Jewish cemetery is always preferable, there is no question that burial in a national cemetery is often understood to be a high honor to the deceased, the family and the people.
Allow me to quote briefly from my previous response concerning the importance of burial in an exclusively Jewish cemetery.
“A Jewish cemetery is referred euphemistically to as a Beit Hayyim (house of life) and Beth Olam (house of eternity). This is dedicated, sacred ground. Only members of our B’rit (Covenant) are privileged to be admitted.
Reverence and holiness are attached to the concept of a Jewish cemetery. Those individuals chosen to prepare the Jewish deceased for burial are referred to in Aramaic as Hevra Kaddisha (holy burial society).
Everything surrounding the preparations for burial and the burial itself are handled with the utmost dignity and seriousness.
When it comes to matters pertaining to the deceased, Judaism excels and others often follow our lead trying to emulate our practices and traditions.
Yes, indeed, burial in a Jewish cemetery is exceedingly important and hallowed in our Jewish traditions.”
Matters of cost can be addressed to your local congregation and Jewish community. Often, there is a free loan burial fund that helps with such needs. Under no circumstance should your husband be buried in a mixed national military cemetery for lack of funds required for burial in a properly designated Jewish cemetery.
We have now dealt with the questions pertaining to the respect to your husband and his memory. What remains is the place of Sh’lom Bayit—Domestic Peace, that is, between you and your adult children. You must do everything in your power to maintain good relations with your children and ask for their help in making his funeral a source of goodness, comfort and positive feelings.
HaMakom yi-nachem etchem…— May the Almighty comfort you together with all who mourn in Zion and Jerusalem.
Your question indicates that your husband served 2 years as LCMC and I want to acknowledge that and to thank you for your service.
The time of grieving is such a complicated time, giving rise to many emotions and thoughts. It is especially difficult when various family members struggle to process the loss in very different ways and disagree on the details surrounding funeral, burial and/or other aspects of mourning. My heart goes out to you and to your family for your loss.
As I read your question, it is not clear to me whether your adult children’s objections come at a time when you are still considering cremation, or after the fact. Neither is it clear to me whether your husband’s ashes, if in fact cremation has already taken place, have actually been buried in Arlington despite family objections, or not.
In any case, my hope and prayer is that you and your children find a way to be of comfort, of support, and of understanding to one another during this difficult time in your lives.
Jewish tradition regards the human body as a sacred trust from God, not to be destroyed or desecrated, even in death. Burial, as reflecting a natural “return to the earth”, is considered a sign of respect and an acknowledgement of the gift of life that God has both given and taken from us. Therefore, cremation runs counter to Jewish tradition.
Nonetheless, even if cremation has already taken place, Jewish tradition has a full set of teachings and rituals dealing with death and with mourning that would still apply. The wisdom in these teachings and rituals offers a powerful guide to processing our loss and to navigating our path with the help of community, family, and friends.
Burial, or burial of ashes, in Arlington, though not a Jewish cemetery, is often seen to be in keeping with the life and values of Jewish service men and women. However, it is perfectly possible to have a Jewish burial, in a Jewish cemetery, with full military honors, and I have officiated at such burials many times. This option gives mourners the opportunity to incorporate respect for Jewish tradition along with appreciation of the military service.
Although many Jewish cemeteries do not accept cremated remains for burial, some do in unusual circumstances, and if cremation has already taken place, this is an option worth exploring as well.
If the economic factor is the overarching factor in your thoughts about Arlington Cemetery, I would suggest that this might be addressed in a variety of ways. Perhaps your adult children would agree to assist with the costs. Perhaps the local Jewish community would have some resources available to help.
Practically speaking, my suggestion to you would be to contact a local rabbi and discuss the particulars of your situation with that rabbi.
Again, thanks for your service and sincerest condolences to you and to your family on your loss.
May the memories you and your family share be a source of inspiration and of strength to you in the days to come. May God, the Compassionate One, grant you solace and strength. May you be comforted in the warm embrace of family, of friends, and of community.
I am sorry to hear that the issue of your husband's burial is causing such family strife. At a time when everyone is in mourning, one would hope that you could offer one another comfort. Alas, we know that deaths and the details that surround them often provoke tensions.
Your question leaves many details unanswered. Chief among them are these: Did your husband express any preference for burial locally or at Arlington? Do you live near Arlington, making it easy for family members to visit the gravesite, or might distance make visitation difficult? You don't say whether the decision to bury your husband at Arlington was a unilateral decision or whether it was a subject of discussion among the family members.
There are several possible issues embedded within your question. Here are the key topics I believe need addressing: is Arlington a proper place for Jewish burial? How are children to honor parents, in this case should they acquiesce to a parent's will? Is there an obligation that parents owe children to consider their point of view?
The question of burial at Arlington Cemetery has been discussed elsewhere on this site. In my response to that question I noted that Jewish service members and veterans have been buried at Arlington since the time of the Civil War. While there is no separate Jewish section, which may prove a problem for some individuals, Jewish burial there is common and acceptable.
As noted above, it is not clear whether the choice of Arlington as a fitting burial site originated with your husband or with you. Regardless one might ask if the obligation to honor one's parents extends to a decision such as this. The Torah teaches that children should honor and revere their parents (Exodus 20:12, Deuteronomy 5:16; Leviticus 19:1-3). Honoring parents means providing them with food and drink and clothing, and “leading them in and out.” Revering parents is understood as learning from them, not disagreeing with them in public and such.
On the face of it, then, the parent's decision is final, but I am hesitant to say so in this case. The choice of a burial plot impacts all members of the family who might wish to visit the site and honor their loved one in that way. Many people visit the gravesite at the time of the Yahrzeit or between the High Holy Days. Will the choice of burial at Arlington impose an undue burden on the children?
Which leads to the third question, what is the obligation of parent to child. The Talmud (Kiddushin 30a) teaches that a parent needs to provide the child with the skills necessary to survive in the world, including the ability to earn a living, be self sustaining, and establish an independent home. Where do we learn the skills of planning a funeral, coping with grief, and facing the financial and social dislocation that may accompany the loss of a spouse if not from watching our parents and grandparents?
I believe that the final decision is your's for a variety of reasons, including the honor children owe parents and the reality that you will bear the financial burden. However, I believe that you owe it to your children to have an open discussion about the decision. Their concerns need to be heard and considered and they need to hear your position. It may be that they can help if the issue is solely financial or that there is another burial site that may better fulfill the needs of the entire family. Whatever the final decision, your willingness to hold an open and loving conversation with your children will serve to guide them in the ways they can face grief and transition.
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