DEAR ABBY: I am 76. My husband and I planned our final wishes for cremation because I have had a lifelong fear of being buried underground. My children from my first marriage are Jewish and very much against cremation. When I told them my wishes, they attacked me with a barrage of negatives about cremation, such as, “You won’t go to heaven,” “You won’t see your deceased mother or grandson in heaven,” “We won’t be able to say kaddish for you,” etc., so I immediately changed my plans. My husband and I purchased side-by-side crypts, thinking it was an acceptable alternative.
I was wrong. For the last month, they have continued to push me to change to a regular burial. I finally had enough and told them to respect my choices and never discuss this with me again. So now, no contact at all except an occasional text from my grandchildren. Any advice or help would be appreciated. — UNHAPPY IN FLORIDA
DEAR UNHAPPY: I assume from your letter that you are neither a conservative nor an orthodox Jew. Because your question involves Jewish law (which is outside my area of expertise), I ran your question by the most brilliant rabbi I know, Rabbi Elliot Dorff, who teaches at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles. In part, this is what he had to say:
“The prohibition against cremation comes from the belief that your body belongs to God, not to you personally. It’s not unlike renting an apartment. Part of the lease agreement is that you will not destroy or harm the property before you cease residency. (There is no restriction on piercing, which was practiced by Jewish women and men from the time of the exodus from Egypt. As for tattooing, the restriction against it goes back to the days when the Jews were fighting with the Canaanites, who used tattooing in their religious rites.)
“The restriction regarding cremation came about because of the belief that it is actively destroying God’s property. According to the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, cremation is prohibited, but if people do that their cremains may be buried in a Jewish cemetery — but, unlike what your children are threatening, it has nothing to do with what happens after death. There are differences on this subject. Nobody knows what happens after death, not even rabbis. Jewish people have a positive commandment to save a life. Organ donation would be an example of this. Although it might be considered ‘damaging a body,’ saving a life takes precedence.”
Rabbi Dorff said your children need to know there’s a disagreement among rabbis as to whether interment in a mausoleum is equivalent to burial in the ground. So, cremation may be “out” for you, but you can be laid to rest next to your husband in a crypt. What is of utmost importance is that your relationship with your children be restored. In the precious time you are on this side of the sod, you and your children need to be able to love and enjoy each other. Weapons like threats and blackmail should not be used.
Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Contact Dear Abby at DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.