My father's last words were that he never wanted to see my sister again. I never told my sister about this, but my sister's last act was to have herself buried next to my father without consulting me.
I feel that I should commemorate my father by placing some barrier or inscription between his gave and hers. How would I do that?
It is truly sad to see such anger and hostility within a family; for a parent's last words to be “I never want to see my child again” is truly heartbreaking.
Nevertheless, a few thoughts:
Whatever might have been, it is now done. They are buried side by side, and you had no part in arranging this. It is out of your hands at this point.
We deeply believe that when we die and leave this earth, our souls (the real us) goes to a place where Truth and Peace reign, and where we are freed from much of the confusion that hindered and blocked our vision in this world. I have often had the occasion to say to someone, “Now that your father is in Heaven, he can finally appreciate who you are and the kind of person you have become, unblocked by his small-minded biases while he was here on Earth.” Obviously, there were many hard feelings between them, and I have no idea what caused those feelings. I do know, however, that more often than not, broken relationships can be mended if one side or the other would be willing to look beyond the initial cause of bad feelings and look at the broader picture. In Heaven, both of them will be shown the whole picture of whatever happened between them, and hopefully, after seeing the totality of everything that went on during their lifetimes, they will find a way to put the past behind and not be stuck in the tzuros that kept them apart in this world.
It may sound trite, but your father got his wish. He never saw her again (in this world). Hopefully his wish will have been considered complete in this world, and not extend to the next.
I do not see any positive purpose in erecting a shed or inscription or anything else that will call attention to the dispute. No one else needs to know about this. They are both gone now, resting in peace. I would just leave it as it is.
May you find comfort in mourning them, and may the One who makes Peace on High, make upon us and all of Israel, Amen
The questioner’s filial piety is worthy of respect. In its several discussions of The Fifth Commandment, the Talmud specifies that it extends beyond the lifespan of the parent to include acts of mourning and memorialization. Tractate Mo’ed Katan, chapter 3, details the rituals enjoined upon the bereaved, and repeatedly commands stricter and more extensive behavior when the deceased is a parent. For example, the duration of mourning the loss of other relatives is 30 days, but for a parent, 12 months. Clearly, the questioner’s desire to fulfill the dying wish of his father fits into this category of filial piety. (I commend to the questioner’s attention Gerald Blidstein, Honor Thy Father and Mother: Filial Responsibility in Jewish Law and Ethics.)
As for the creation of some barrier between two graves, that is probably a matter subject to the cemetery’s internal rules. Some cemeteries allow low metal railings, but others do not. Likewise, some cemeteries allow the planting of hedge-type plants, but others insist on a “park-like” appearance. If the cemetery were to disallow any interposition, that would not constitute valid reason for disinterring the father’s remains. Jewish law acknowledges only a few, select reasons to justify disturbing the final resting place of the deceased, and this case does not fit into those categories.
I would counsel not to place any inscription on the tombstone that would cast disrespect upon the deceased sister. Shaming the dead, who can not hear and defend themselves, violates the commandment in Leviticus 19:14, “Do not curse the deaf.”
Without presuming to judge the reasons for the deceased father’s animosity towards the sister, I would nonetheless raise some questions that perhaps only those who know the details of this family situation could answer. Moreover, perhaps even they would need to acknowledge that the answers to these questions are beyond mortal’s knowledge.
Would the father have reconciled with the sister had he lived longer, and thus retracted his dying words? One might be tempted to say “no”, but only Heaven knows the full answer to such a question. Estranged relatives have repeatedly mended even horribly strained relations. The reconciliation of Joseph and his brothers, narrated in the closing chapter of Genesis, is a model for all subsequent Jewish treatments of this universal theme.
Was the father wholly the aggrieved party, and was his rejection of the sister wholly justified? Again, I do not presume to know the details that the questioner knows, but I am suggesting that only Heaven knows the full story. This is relevant because, when a dying person makes a wish that is contrary to Jewish law, we are duty-bound to ignore that wish. The terminology of our tradition is “mushba’ v’omed mi-har Sinai”, meaning that the dying person is already under obligation to follow the laws given to our entire people at Mt. Sinai, and thus is not at liberty to command his heirs to disregard any of those laws. In his final words, was the father transgressing “Love thy neighbor as thyself” (Leviticus 19:16)?
Was the father fully in his right mind when dying? If not, then his words ought to be received with compassion, but not followed literally.
These questions, perhaps unanswerable, are intended to strengthen the resolve of the questioner not to act in such a way as would casts public aspersions against the deceased sister. There are times when the Jewish counsel shev v’al ta’aseh, “stay put and do not act”, while psychologically less satisfying than performing dramatic action, is nonetheless the wisest course.
Finally, let it be pointed out that “the dust returns to the earth as it was, but the spirit returns to God, who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7). The remains of the father are not blessed with sight. Burying the sister in the adjacent grave does not cause her to fall within the father’s gaze.
May God, Who is everywhere, be close to the hearts of those who mourn, and bring them consolation.
The anger and pain that your father had for your sister was deep and broad. I can not imagine, nor do I wish to know why there is such - dare I say it - hatred. This last request of his reflects that. However, it is an unfair request and puts too much burden on a family.
Your sister, it seems, tried either to reconcile with him as a her final act by being buried beside him or, conversely, poked him in the eye as a final act of anger. We may never know.
What we do know is this: each grave is a separate holy area. There is not one grave 'holier' than another. The grave is for the dead, not the living.
But visiting the grave is for the living. It is too late to do anything about the two burials. The deed is, to use a rabbinic term very loosely, b'di'avad - it is already done. In other words, it is too late (although that is a very, very loose use of the word.) So what to do?
How about a hedge or a bush between each grave? That way it will look like an eruv - a kind of a boundry separating one from the other. They will spend eternity together. In another couple of generations, though, the grave may be forgotten, the hedge will disappear and they will still be side by side. Maybe in some other existence will they be able to reconcile. But in the meantime, it breaks my heart to know that death is the only thing that brought them to each other's side.
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