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?
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