My parents recently bought burial plots in our synagogue’s cemetery. I was initially shocked; they were in their late fifties and people in both my mom’s and dad’s families often live well into their nineties, so, God willing, they still had decades to go. They were both healthy and active, and my brother and I were in our early twenties and busy with school. This was not the time to be planning for their deaths.
My dad told me that the agent who arranged the sale asked if he and my mom wanted to come see the plots and the apparently beautiful views. They did not end up going; my dad told me he did not care about the views because he will be dead. While he was making light of a serious topic, his reaction drives home an important point: planning for your death is not for you, but for the loved ones you leave behind.
I have realized that buying these plots years in advance was actually a very generous gift to my brother and me. It is one of the most selfless gifts one can give, because the giver receives no benefit from it. When my parents die — again, God willing, not for many decades — my brother and I (and, for the first death, the surviving spouse) will not be arguing over whether to bury or cremate, or where to put the remains, nor will we have to come up with the money to do so.
Rabbi Alvin I. Fine eloquently wrote in this poem often read on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, “Birth is a beginning, and death a destination. And life is a journey…” Birth and death are both important parts of life and, just as parents prepare for birth with maternity photos, baby showers, and birth plans, we should plan for death to make our transition out of this world as smooth as possible for our surviving loved ones. Planning for death is not pessimistic and gloomy; it is the right thing to do.