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Does visiting a grave help with the grieving process?

As cremation becomes more widely accepted, people making

end-of-life plans must decide if a burial is the right choice. This week's clergy discuss how one's decision may affect those left to mourn.

 

Rabbi Zev Schostak, director of pastoral care, Gurwin Jewish Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, Commack:

I believe that mourners receive a tremendous sense of inner peace and closure when they visit the burial site of their loved ones. They are able to reminisce and connect with the past, especially when it is a family plot where parents, grandparents and even great-grandparents are buried together. Often, when mourners weren't able to say their final goodbyes and important things are left unsaid, a visit to the graveside offers an opportunity to share their feelings in a therapeutic manner.

In the Jewish tradition, it is customary to visit the graveside of a parent before the High Holy Days and on yahrzeit, the anniversary of the death; those are days on the Jewish calendar when we are reminded of our own mortality and aspire to live up to the values that our parents taught us.

When I think about the inner peace and closure offered by a burial site -- beyond the biblical imperative of "from dust to dust," I am truly saddened by the rise in cremations in recent years. One of the great tragedies for survivors of the Holocaust is that the Nazis cremated their loved ones, and they have no place to go and grieve. How ironic that descendants of those who died in such a way would choose cremation over a burial plot. Let us resolve to give the next generation the gift of closure and inner peace -- a burial plot.

 

Michael Houze, co-director, Long Island Open Circle, a neo-Pagan organization, Huntington:

My general answer is yes, it can, especially if it is the last location of the physical remains. This crosses many different religious beliefs. Most people believe in some type of afterlife, and expect to see loved ones in one way or another. You may not believe in the Resurrection that Christians believe in, but for them, it is a sacred place. Many who believe in burial feel the presence of the loved one when they go there. This can be very comforting. It could be the same if you lived with the person and still feel them around the house.

I don't see anything negative in burial sites at all. People who visit burial sites are moving on in their own way. While you don't want someone living in the past, I also don't think it is healthy to put a part of your past away and try to forget about it.

But, don't drag someone kicking and screaming to the grave site. Let the person come to the decision about going or not going. As long as the person has a healthy perspective about the person's death and understands the person is dead, don't push them.

 

Erik Larson, meditation instructor, Brahma Kumaris Global Harmony House, Great Neck:

I have family members who have been buried, and friends and associates who have been cremated. And, while Brahma Kumaris believe in cremation, my family has purchased burial plots, and it is possible I will end up there, and that's OK.

Brahma Kumaris have a wide range of cultural acceptance. We encourage those who come to us to follow the burial traditions they were brought up with and find comfort in. With Christians, that is burial; with Hindi, it is cremation, for example. The dispensation of the body touches some very deeply held belief for many. I think it is more important that the person adhere to beliefs that give them comfort than that he or she has a site to visit. If having a site to visit is important, then, yes, it will give comfort.

As Brahma Kumaris, we identify ourselves as spiritual beings and don't see any value in keeping the body when it is no longer alive. We believe in ashes to ashes, dust to dust. The body will go back to its original elements. Our theory is that having a burial plot ties the person's spirit to this Earth, rather than allowing it to move on. Brahma Kumaris don't have a party when someone dies, but we do want to send the deceased off with happy thoughts and wishes. Think of it this way: I have some clothes that I have worn lovingly and enjoyed, but if I saw them for sale, I wouldn't buy them right now. It is the same with the body. When we are finished with it, we are finished with it.

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