Burial and Second Marriages

Burial question: My wife died after 30 years of marriage. We raised 2 children and have a large extended family. At the time I bought a double plot (vertical) for her and myself, and next to that, a double for her parents. Her Mom is next to her now. After 5 years I remarried. My new wife would like to square away our burial needs. I’m sure the kids would like me near their Mother and Grandparents, but that’s rather awkward for my new wife and her family. Do you have any advice?

Dear Mark,

God puts us all on this planet in an imperfect state.  It would be fairy-tale-awesome if every man and woman lived in a long enduring and happy marriage and both return to their Creator at the same time.  However, that is not how the world REALLY works!  You know this, and you’ve heard all the platitudes about how sensitive this situation is and how everyone involved should try to be understanding, and that there’s no easy solution, and so on.  Let’s deal with reality.

First, we want to express our delight that you seem to have found happiness again after a long marriage.  Many widowers don’t get this second shot, so accept our congratulations along with the wish that your second marriage brings you joy.

Now, you don’t indicate whether or not this matter has been discussed with your wife and whether she has indicated any strong preferences or whether you are surmising her reaction.  We want to make clear that we will not be issuing any sort of Biblical ruling that you can carry back to your family which they will all peacefully accept—matter settled.  This question is not like someone asking, “My new wife wants me to cut off relations with my children from my first wife, what should I do?”  That would be easier.

The Biblical goal in this situation is to achieve maximum lasting peace and family tranquility.  If you had also had children with your second wife, we think your situation would be considerably tougher to resolve.  As it is, your children also have a voice in where you should be interred.  We are sure that you are correct that they would rather see you near their mother, particularly if either of them have also acquired lots in that same cemetery.

The point is that a Biblical case can be made for burying a man alongside his first wife and an equally cogent one can be made for burying him alongside his second wife.  Either way is proper and works from a spiritual perspective because God has chosen not to reveal to us whether he seats people in Heaven as couples or individuals.  The real question is only how to arrive at a decision with which all family members can live in peace and harmony. 

As we try to home in on an answer to you, we want to mention a few things. One is that most states assign the right to make burial decisions to a surviving spouse.  If there isn’t one, the burial decisions will be made by the deceased’s adult children, or if necessary, adult grandchildren.  What this means is that if there is a fight between your widow and your children, Heaven forbid, she wins.  However, if they should so choose, after her departure, they would have the right to disinter you and bury you elsewhere.   We mention this awful model only as an encouragement for everyone to work together in good faith and harmony.

The Bible does speak of rejoicing with the wife of your youth (Proverbs 5:18) but we very much doubt that this was the reason for why Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was laid to rest beside the late president and not by Mr. Onassis.  We would guess the reason had much to do with all her children wanting her beside their father.

It sounds as if you have not yet discussed this with your children and that is the first step.  If they have strong feelings, as your children, they carry weight.  Then, your next task would be to talk to your wife.  Though she might demur, there is nothing wrong with her also being buried near you and your first wife.

There are other factors about which we know nothing.  Was your wife also married before?  Did her marriage end in divorce or death?  Does she have children from an earlier marriage?  Is your relationship with them such that they too become stakeholders in this discussion?

What we hope we have done is address your question as you wrote it.  Wisely, you didn’t ask for ‘the answer’ you asked for advice.  Our advice is start the conversation with all family members—not all together please!  With God’s blessing, we hope that you will all quickly arrive at a decision that will avoid all disagreements or arguments now or later.

Wishing you long life,

Rabbi Daniel & Susan Lapin

17 thoughts on “Burial and Second Marriages”

  1. David Jacobson

    What if the deceased is cremated? Can the cremains be divided, with one part being interred adjacent to the first spouse, and the second part interred adjacent to the second spouse? (I’m aware that Jewish tradition discourages cremation, but I’m asking this in a general sense for a non-Jewish family.)

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear David–
      When you ask, “Can the cremains be divided…?” it’s a little like asking “Can the main entree of rib steak be served with a spoon?” or “Can we build a house with a four foot high front door?” Meaning no disrespect to you or your question, in a relatively free environment, you can do what ever you wish. If you wish to pour half of the ashes to which the departed’s remains have been reduced in one place and another half elsewhere, who’s to stop you? And if that cheers up the bereaved, so much the better. It is only within a religious framework that certain things are permitted while others are prohibited. I hope this helps.

  2. I watch your TCT TV show as often as I see it appear on the schedule. I always listen very carefully to every word as each word is important and your insights are profound and truly appreciated. Many people in my church also watch your TV SHOW. I also enjoyed reading your answers to web questions presented by followers. Your answer are very well thought out and not too short, even though time is always important. Thanks again for sharing your wisdom with anyone to will listen and care.
    QED in Ohio

  3. If I go first and my wife decides to remarry she will be worrying about the haunting not where to be buried. I say that in jest of course. This is troubling, my sister died 20 years ago and her husband died a little over a year ago. He remarried and divorced so the decision was easy as there was a double plot with intertwined heart headstone already there. It would have been awkward if he was still married. Thanks for this insight.

  4. My parents were less concerned about their mortal remains. My Mother perished of ovarian carcinoma in 1978. She fought long and hard, but when she grew to accept her fate, I will never forget one of her last lessons: ‘Don’t you be a cemetery visitor. Don’t think for a moment that I am in the ground. What lies in the ground is no longer me. It is but an empty shell. I will be with our Father in Heaven.’ I do of course visit her last resting place about twice a year, but when I do, I remember her words, walk away, wash my hands, get in my car and get on with life. My Father wanted it the same way. Shortly after he passed, that decorated old soldier visited me in a stark, lucid dream and said: ‘Don’t worry about me. I’m fine. Continue to march!’ I awoke, strangely comforted.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Hello James–
      yes, my dad also ‘visited’ me one day in my office soon after he went home to God. For me too, it was comforting.

  5. I never married and this is still a difficult question. Primarily because who knows where my nephew and his family will be after the fact. We have discussed that I do not want to be cremated or embalmed. Ewww! Although I am not Jewish, I prefer the Jewish respect for the body and the practice of immediate burial within 24-hours. The problem is finding a cemetery that will accept “environmentally friendly” burials in an area with a fairly small Jewish population. Would a Jewish congregation accept a “gerah” for burial if the gerah was not actively working toward conversion but was more of a gentile Zionist? Somehow, I don’t think so. I’ve thought about buying a plot where my grandparents and other family members are buried, and if they would accept an environmentally friendly burial that would be the best choice. However, I have never heard of them doing that. So, I have some research to do before I make a final decision.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Joyce-
      thanks for writing; your idea of acquiring a place near your grandparents sounds like a good plan. I don’t now what the position would be of Jewish cemeteries but I occasionally visit a beautiful old cemetery in Jerusalem which has a number of prominent Christian Zionists buried there along with some Jews. Wishing you a long and happy life,

  6. While I realize this is a sensitive subject for many. For some reason, I can’t seem to get all that “worked” up about a grave.

    Perhaps it has to do with my Christian belief that the grave isn’t the end (Sorry, I know Rabbi, you won’t have an opinion on that subject, I am appreciative, and I am not meaning to put you into the middle of anything of the sort)

    And even after reading and following you for many years, I am not sure I fully understand the Judaic principle about death, heaven and the “after here”…

    Anyway, I have never been back to the grave of my grandparents, my brother or anyone, since the funeral. They are not there. They are in my heart and memories and I believe we will be re-united later.

    Ancient Jewish wisdom is much welcomed to help me understand what God intends

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Karen–
      Certainly I do have an opinion about the grave not being the end. I agree wholeheartedly. Of course the grave is not the end; it’s the transition to the ultimate world of Truth and closeness to the Creator. This is not a long enough forum for a comprehensive discussion of the Jewish view of the ‘hereafter’ but suffice it to say that this world is an antechamber to the world-to-come. It’s a place in which we get an opportunity to refine our souls. Nonetheless, we don’t live on earth merely to prepare to die. The Torah devotes no ink to before birth or after death focusing as it does on how to live correctly in this world. God intends us to live correctly and to try encourage others to do the same. We can safely leave all post-mortem matters in His competent hands. We do regard the grave as holy however. Just as the body of the deceased is treated with reverence so is his final resting place. It is not uncommon to find people praying at the graves of very special people.

      1. Sorry Rabbi – I only meant the “aside” to be concerning my Christian belief.

        And thanks for furthering, in your so special, gentle way, to educate me.

        I “pride” myself in getting a point across in few words.

        I am in awe of your better ability to do such


  7. No where does Mark say where he would prefer his body to be buried. He seems more concerned with keeping family peace than following his own desires. He needs to decide the answer and then explain his thoughts and desires to his children and current wife. His wishes should be more important. He needs to have the discussion now, while there is time for all to speak their minds but also for all to understand the final decision. They should not be blind sided with this information as they prepare to bury him and are grieving. Hopefully, his wife and kids love and respect him enough to abide by his final wishes. He should also put his wishes in writing, signed by a notary, to ensure that there is no question.

  8. Rabbi Lapin,

    Thank you for the post, this is a scenario I have never considered before.

    Your last paragraph says “not all together please!” until I read that, I was just assuming everybody would prefer to discuss together. The definitive feel of your statement, makes me fear I am missing some fundamental wisdom…if possible, would you please explain that a little more?

    Thank you so much!

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Jacob–
      Just general guidance to avoid getting yourself into circumstances when you could find yourself defending yourself against superior forces or possibly in the middle of a riot. At the best of times family gatherings can be contentious. Now add in the complications introduced by second marriages and step mothers and anything can happen. Best to win one or two or three stakeholders individually over to your point of view and then once you have a strong alliance, open it up for general discussion. Good advice for both family and business.

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