The (Cemetery) Plot Thickens: 7 Steps for Boomers to Romance Their Stone

When Margaret’s husband died in his late 60s, she lived through a crash course in burying a loved one. He wanted to be buried in the St. Louis zip code in which they raised their family. She met this request, and found a cemetery across from their children’s elementary school with the perfect aisle plot since he loved an aisle seat on an airplane and in a movie theater. 

But eight years later, when she moved from the Show-Me State to the Big Apple (New York City) to be closer to her sisters and older son, she felt she was abandoning her late husband. 

She wondered, who would periodically visit him, leave stones on his headstone, as is the custom in the Jewish religion, and even talk to him about what was going on in their family’s life and the world? Several relatives do. 

Margaret also picked a location that had an extra plot by his side for her, yet now, almost 11 years later she wonders if she will want to be shipped back (in a box). By then there may be even fewer people to visit both of them, if anybody? 

Barbara hoped to be buried next to her parents in the family plot, located in a bucolic cemetery in suburban New York with other members of her parents’ temple. However, the four plots her parents had purchased decades earlier were all occupied. Where will she go? She could select another row in the same cemetery, but she decided she doesn’t want to be in a different “neighborhood” than her parents. She likes to be surrounded by those she knows well since she recognizes it’s a permanent and not temporary resting spot. She also wants there to be room for her beau, Fixup, who relocated North decades ago from his native West Virginia. He has no desire to return South, preferring the Northeast. After nine years of bliss, why should they part just because they’re dead? 

It may take a village to enjoy life, but it may be even truer that we need others to consider decisions regarding death. Barbara queried her closest pals to see if there would be room for her twosome in any of their final resting places. If she went near Margaret and her husband that would mean going back to the Midwest, which she had left almost 12 years ago. Her daughters, sons-in-law and grandsons would rarely visit her there, if ever. A few friends planned on cremation and didn’t know where their ashes would be scattered or interred, so that plan wasn’t likely to work, either.   

Another friend suggested gathering a group of interesting and diverse friends and finding a place for all, maybe, near the Hudson River or in the Catskills mountains, both locations Barbara has grown to love. The key was to locate a large open space so they wouldn’t be on top of each other. But it all sounds so undecided, and she’s big on making a decision—NOW! 

Obviously, the two of us have ambivalent feelings as we ruminate all the necessary end-of-life choices to select an eternal resting place, from whether to be in a box, mausoleum or urn. There are so many other decisions to make, and most are ones we don’t want to leave to our heirs. They will have enough to do in getting rid of all the stuff we leave behind and deciding whether to sell, donate or dump it.

Here are seven simple steps we think are worth sharing that we are considering as we finalize choices for this deadly task. 

  1. Find the right cemetery. Maybe your house of worship will reserve a spot for you. If so, check it out now since cemeteries are filling up. Ask if there’s room. Second, take a look in person to see how well maintained it is. Is grass cut, rubbish picked up, gravel pathways available so visitors don’t walk on grave sites? Is snow and ice removed in winter? Check how well it looks throughout all four seasons. Are you adverse to noise? If yes, think about the sound of traffic or bulldozers building new homes or gravesites nearby, or is it at a great distance from the road? If you don’t like what you see, ask friends and family for recommendations, just as you do with any big purchase. Also find out all the costs and be prepared that this an expensive purchase with little room, if any, for negotiation. There’s the cost of the plot, the head and footstones, the annual or perpetual care, plus the funeral costs. You also may want to inquire about amenities such as a lovely bench, tree or rose bush for color and shade.
  2. Think about the neighborhood you want within the cemetery. You may have a choice, but you also may not. If there is space, decide if you want a sunny Southern exposure with a lake or park view? Or do you favor an aisle as Margaret’s husband did? Do you like to be near the front or in the back? Do you want there to be room on either side for others you know and love? This is not the time to risk having a toxic family member next to you. (You thought Thanksgiving together was bad, just wait.) You might want to buy up the spaces around you for others in a final act of generosity.
  3. Consider security. If you always liked having a door attendant or concierge, why not continue that tradition and ask if there’s a security guard to keep out kids riding bicycles, skateboards, or adults speeding through. Also, is there a sign about the speed limit permitted and any stop signs for pedestrian crossings?
  4. Weigh snob appeal if that matters. If you always cared about being in the right zip code or neighborhood when choosing your other homes, offices and clubs, don’t stop now. The particular city or suburb should be considered, which may bring with it access to good schools, shops, recreation, restaurants, flower shops and more. Restaurants and flower shops are a particular plus so visitors can enjoy a meal before or after and purchase some flowers for your grave. But remember that neighborhoods can also change over time. 
  5. Write the inscription/epitaph. You can leave it to others, but you can also write what you want for your headstone and footstone now and put it in your will. Most cemeteries limit the number of words, or you pay extra for each additional character.
  6. Think perpetual care. Many cemeteries include this in the price—the site will be well maintained forever. It’s akin to the taxes and maintenance you may be paying on your home. Ensure you’ll be well cared for since you can’t always depend on grown kids and other family to follow through; they’re busy enjoying life! They also forget, especially if they live far away, since the cliché out of sight, out of mind is true. 
  7. Act now. At our age, there’s little time to look, comparison shop and debate.


    • Jeffrey Stiffman

      This is just a small part of planning for one’s eventual demise. Jewish tradition suggests writing an ethical will to be given to your survivors upon your death. Many of us prepay heir funeral expenses so that we may see that mourners do not feel pressured to pay for exorbitant extras that disappear into the ground. Having such discussions with family members can help to make the time of the death of a loved one easier for the survivors.

    • Lynn Lyss

      This makes me smile!

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