Dear Miriam | Planning for Death Proves Problematic

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Dear Miriam,

What will happen if I outlive my non-Jewish spouse? I find great comfort and meaning in Jewish rituals surrounding death. What does one in an interfaith relationship do?

Signed,


I Don’t Want to Plan for This But …

Dear Plan,

Just like there are innumerable possibilities of what interfaith families look like and what decisions they make about religion in their lives, there are countless options for how interfaith families can approach decisions surrounding death.

There are no right or wrong choices, but rather there are many long and potentially complicated (and certainly sad) questions you want to discuss with your spouse. Just like creating a living will or advanced directive, the time for these discussions is when everyone is healthy and can voice freely and without pressure what their wishes are.

Since you’re thinking about these questions now, see if your spouse is open to a conversation. Ask what mourning traditions he finds meaningful from his own tradition and learn about the traditions if they’re new to you. If he’s unfamiliar with Jewish burial and shiva practices, spend a little time learning about them together and share what you find meaningful about Jewish traditions. Talk about family funerals you’ve attended, either together or separately, and what you’ve noticed, what’s brought you comfort and what’s made you uncomfortable as well.

If you have a rabbi and/or other spiritual leader that you and your spouse both know, it’s worth a conversation about what the norms are within the larger religious context. While you can largely make any decision you want to on your own, if you prefer to imagine the possibility of mourning within a community setting, there are some specific questions to ask about officiating at funerals, expectations for saying kaddish (the traditional prayer said in memory of loved ones) and the practices of local funeral homes and cemeteries.

No matter what conversations you have now, the reality of what might happen and how you might feel (many, many years in the future) when this might occur are impossible to predict. Though I don’t have a specific source for this, I have always learned that Jewish mourning rituals are for the living not for the dead, which means that, ultimately, if and when the time comes, you will be the only one who gets to decide what will bring you comfort and allow you the closure that you need.

Be well,

Miriam

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