Erica Brown

Good To Go

Right before Yom Kippur, my husband and I put a deposit on two burial plots. We paid with a credit card (we need the frequent flyer miles for cargo) and received word that our eternal real estate in Israel was in process. In case our prayers were not effective, we had an alternative.

We are both young and healthy, but you never know. Having spent the better part of two years researching and writing about the end of life, I learned the importance of crafting burial plans early. It’s one less thing for the kids to fight about, and knowing where you are going when you have nowhere else to go brings some measure of comfort.

I apparently did not fill out the form correctly. The very kind man handling this odd transaction wrote to say that “the two plots that you reserved for 120” lacked specific direction. Would we like our “chelka” — our plot — to be with the Yeshiva University group or with the Baltimore region? We do not live in Baltimore, but it’s south of New York, so it’s probably all the same to him.

I did not know that in your forever resting place you could situate yourself academically or socially. This put a whole new spin on school spirit. I am a proud graduate, but am unsure — in this very ultimate decision — if I want to spend my eternal life as an undergraduate. I know people my age who still talk abut their fraternities; it’s social regression. And maybe, if I am going to be buried with any academic standing, cemetery snob that I am, I would actually like to be with those who majored in philosophy and graduated magna cum laude. I’m just saying.

Before e-mailing me, the funeral guy spoke to my husband, who is not a Yeshiva University alum. My husband, as a joke, asked him if he would be allowed to get the privileges of YU even though he had not studied there formally. The man seemed confident that YU was a welcoming environment for this kind of permanent stay and that he could get in on my coat-tails. The admissions office must be busier than ever.

Because this e-mail irks me, I have spent days now perseverating on where I belong eternally. I always thought that if you were good, you spent the after-life in a divine hammock on a fake Caribbean island in the sky. But maybe forever is really back to my dorm room with four other women, five phones and old pizza crusts. I promise to eat better and take exercise more seriously if that is what it takes to avoid this future.

And why should I limit myself to an undergraduate cemetery when I went to a few very good graduate schools? It might be nice to engrave my degrees and possibly my best grade point average on the tombstone, right next to “beloved wife, mother and daughter.” But I’m stopping at SAT scores. Mine weren’t that good, and apparently you have to pay per letter.

This is a big decision, and you only make it once. Besides the family, I don’t want to be buried by my neighborhood zip code in an Israeli cemetery; just drop me in the south of France portion, a more elegant and interesting option. And I don’t want to be buried in the teacher or writer section because they’re most likely a very serious bunch. Loners, probably. And I would like a few Jewish doctors nearby for a quick curbside consult. Given my current social network, I will probably be buried with my fellow carpool moms. We all have the same Honda Odyssey anyway, so why not stay together since it feels like I’ll be doing carpool for the rest of my life.

At 120 (why pick the Moses’ ETD when Methuselah lived until 969?), I hope that my husband will be on one side of me. Our thermostat wars will finally be over; we will spend no time in the after-life arguing if it’s too warm or too cold at night. On the other side, please put me next to someone who is not socially awkward or too talkative. I need peace of mind but not too much peace of mind. Let her be kind, high-minded and careful about gossip (but not too careful) and forget the same college. It is enough of a blessing if I can age gracefully. I don’t need to be forever 21.

Erica Brown’s column appears the first week of the month. She is the scholar-in-residence for The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. Her forthcoming book is “Happier Endings: Overcoming the Fear of Death” (Simon and Schuster).

About the Author
Dr. Erica Brown is the Vice Provost for Values and Leadership at Yeshiva University and the director of its Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks–Herenstein Center. Her latest book is Ecclesiastes and the Search for Meaning (Maggid Books).