Plots of My Own

This week’s Torah portion, Chayei Sarah, reminded me of a funny thing that happened a couple of weeks ago….

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A message was left on my home voicemail: “Good afternoon. I am your Family Service Advisor at Arlington Memorial Park. I am calling as part of your file review and would like to discuss our updated Privacy Policy, as well as our Rules and Regulations for the Park. In addition, I’d like to arrange for a tour of the Park. Please contact me at your earliest convenience.” Huh? I started laughing hysterically and simply had to return the call. Arlington Memorial Park is a cemetery. Since when do cemeteries make “customer service” calls?

Of course, there’s a background story here…

My husband and I purchased burial plots almost twenty years ago when we were in our mid-thirties with two elementary school-aged kids. It wasn’t an acquisition we had ever thought or talked about until an employee of his died in a car crash. Rod, his wife, and son – who all lived in Florida – were traveling through Atlanta on the way to a family vacation in Gatlinburg when the tragic accident happened one rainy Friday night before Christmas. Our children were sleeping out at friends’ homes that night when we received a telephone call from the chaplain at our local children’s hospital. We learned that Rod was dead, Gretta was in shock, and young Danny was slightly injured. We immediately did whatever was necessary to comfort the living, deal with the police, and respectfully tend to the dead.

The experience was terribly unsettling. The reality of how many lives could change so dramatically in a moment was mind-blowing. The realization of the impossibility of advance preparation for such a crisis was disconcerting. If my husband suddenly died, how the heck would I pull off a funeral and burial in twenty-four hours? I did what I always do. I took control. I insisted that we take steps to purchase burial plots in case – God forbid! – one of us succumbs to an untimely death. By having plots set aside (by a lovely tree with nearby space for a bench) I rationalized, there would be one less thing to deal with in the event of a difficult, mind-numbing time. And so, we took out another mortgage (not really, but it felt like it at the time) and invested in “death.” When I mentioned to my parents and grandparents that we were the proud owners of some new real estate, they were not amused. At their ages, THEY still hadn’t chosen their final resting places and chastised me for “inviting the evil eye” when I still was so young.

What can I say? I accept that death is an inevitable part of the life cycle. I didn’t make up the rules. We are born and we die, without much choice in the matter. I know that I must do my best to maximize my time here on earth; to live each day like it could be the last one. Period. I truly am not afraid of dying…I just pray that it won’t hurt when it happens and hope my brother will do me proud when he officiates at my funeral.

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In Chayei Sarah, Abraham’s foresight in buying land – paying top dollar to own burial space in the cave of Machpelah – set the tone for future generations. Jacob, grandson of Abraham and son of Isaac, was on his deathbed when he said to his sons: “Bury me with my fathers in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite, the cave in the field of Machpelah, near Mamre in Canaan, which Abraham bought along with the field as a burial place from Ephron the Hittite. There Abraham and his wife Sarah were buried, there Isaac and his wife Rebekah were buried, and there I buried Leah. The field and the cave in it were bought from the Hittites.” (Genesis 49: 29-32) The wishes, the reasons, and the expectations are clear.

Now, all these years later, Arlington Memorial Park wants me to come visit my property. The value has doubled since the day we purchased it, so I guess it’s been a good investment. I don’t know what my children will want to do when their time comes, but I’ve made sure there’s room for them next to me…

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