When my dad died, we scattered his ashes from a fishing boat in the ocean in Norway, near our family’s favorite summer spot. It was what he wanted and we had a deal.
It was a pretty special day, filled with sunshine and curious seals trailing our boat, grandchildren taking turns holding the urn and pouring the ashes into the water. His ex-wife, my mom, threw rose pedals on the water’s surface while Sinatra’s “I did it my way” filled the air from my brother in-law’s iPhone.
A few days later, before my return to the States, my sister and I were having dinner when she told me that if she dies before me, she’d like the same kind of arrangement. “How about you?” she asked.
I couldn’t answer her, then.
Since Jewish tradition doesn’t permit cremation, I am mostly committed to the idea of my body decomposing in a simple, pine box. As unpleasant as the thought is, I figure I’ll be dead, so it really won’t matter much either way.
The greater question for me is where I should be buried. I used to say “bury me in Norway,” since it seemed to me that this would be one way of ensuring a connection for my boys and one day their children and later their children’s children, to their Nordic roots. My remains deep in the Jewish cemetery in Oslo, they might feel all the more compelled to take that roots-trip, so to speak.
I have friends who want to be buried in Israel, the eternal spiritual homeland for the Jews. This is where they feel their soul belongs. I too, love Israel and feel a special connection to its history and significance, although perhaps less so to its modern day reality.
Then, only four weeks ago, there was the funeral of my dear friend Fanny. Making my way to her burial place past the headstones with all the familiar names from my nearly 30 years in West Hartford, Connecticut, I had an epiphany. It is there, next to the friends who made the world a better place for me, that I belong. The deep sense of community we built together struck me as timeless. Although we joke that our Jewish cemetery, perched as it is on a hill across from a strip mall in a nondescript town, isn’t exactly pastoral, it is—alas—the people who make the place.
So now I can say to my sister, bury me there, surrounded by the friends who welcomed me and made me feel like I belonged in my life as a Jew.