A grave decision

Where will you be buried?

That’s the question I’m asking myself lately. Graveyards are for the living: the dead, alive in the world beyond the veil, have no need of them. To be buried in a graveyard with one’s ancestors is a gift to one’s progeny. It is, above all, an act of charity to give your descendants a place where they may come and remember you together with your ancestors. In turn, they will reward you with their prayers, above all on All Souls Day when the indulgence might be gained, thus strengthening the holy bond of charity between the Church Militant and the Church Suffering. That’s one reason why cremation is such an offense – and doubly so when the ashes are deliberately scattered.

My Grandad and Granny are buried in a non-Catholic cemetery across the river, near the town I grew up in. I miss them terribly. We visit them every year on All Souls come rain or shine. It grieves me to know that, wherever I am buried, it will not be in the same ground. Looking at it one way, the chain was broken by my conversion to the Catholic Faith. Looking at it properly, however, the chain was broken long ago when my ancestors abandoned the Catholic Faith. I have knowledge of only one Catholic in my family, other than myself, since King Frederick I converted Denmark to Lutheranism in 1529. Therefore, if my descendants are to have an ancestral burial ground, it will be consecrated Catholic ground in another place. May all of my descendants keep the Faith!

In the old days the dead were buried in churchyards. Others were buried in family plots. Either way the departed were surrounded by ancestors, close relatives, and people who knew them. Today, I suspect, most people are buried in cemeteries surrounded by strangers.

It seems to me that graveyards where multiple generations of one family are reposed might be a thing of the past. Offhand, I don’t even know where most of my other relatives are buried. Grandma and Grandpa Ramonda – the Catholic parents of my stepfather – are buried right here in Glenn County. Unfortunately I didn’t know them well, though I always received a five dollar bill on my birthday. As for Grandpa Frank? Grandma Maxine? Grandpa Soren? Grandma Johanna? Grandma Maggie? (And who was her husband?) I don’t have a clue. Aunt Elsie is buried in Los Osos, I think; Uncle George and Aunt Nancy somewhere in Los Angeles. My family is quite scattered and doesn’t really pay attention to such things anymore. Protestants do not believe in praying for the dead or gaining indulgences for their beloved departed, so close proximity to deceased relatives is not a priority.

What does this mean? It means that wherever I am buried, I want it to be in a place where my children and grandchildren are likely to remain. Is that place Orland, California? Quite possibly, but it’s hard to say. In any case, it is somewhat jarring to realize that my family has no ancestral graveyard, and that if I want one for my descendants I will probably need to volunteer for the first grave …


6 thoughts on “A grave decision

  1. My impression is that these days it’s something of a triumph to be buried (as opposed to cremated) *at all*. I’ve never had to price a funeral yet (thank God), but I’ve known of at least three cases now where people’s bodies have been cremated and the ashes interred or something like that at a particular cemetery. Then the family feel like they have someplace to visit despite the cremation. To me this is a weird sort of cheating, but I have a sinking feeling that anyone who wants to have a loved one actually _buried_ as opposed to cremated is being priced out of the market and that this business of interring ashes at a known location is billed as a sort of compromise–“You can have a less exorbitantly expensive funeral package for your loved one and have someplace to visit and put flowers, too.” So if I and those I love can be buried (rather than cremated), even buried among strangers, I’ll think we’re doing pretty well.

    I suppose that being adopted may give me a slightly more disconnected feeling about the “family plot” aspect of it. And of course when you’re married, you want to be buried near your spouse, but the spouse’s family is from a different location anyway, so you couldn’t both be buried near each other _and_ in a family plot.


  2. “If St. Isadore’s Ranch is likely to remain in the family for generations, then how about a plot on the property?”

    That’s a very attractive idea and definitely something to consider. The legal issues are probably not insurmountable. Another question would be how to ensure this land stays in the family.


  3. “So if I and those I love can be buried (rather than cremated), even buried among strangers, I’ll think we’re doing pretty well.”

    You’re probably right about that, Lydia. Sad, though, isn’t it?

    “And of course when you’re married, you want to be buried near your spouse, but the spouse’s family is from a different location anyway, so you couldn’t both be buried near each other _and_ in a family plot.”

    Sometimes that will be the case, but I think in normal times the spouse is not ordinarily from a different location, but from a family which lives in the same parish/village/city. The spouses may not be buried together in a “family plot”, but a local cemetery should be home to numerous families who have intermarried.


  4. Jeff:

    I’m not sure if there are any zoning issues involved in creating a new plot on private property, but it’s certainly a worthy consideration. My husband’s family has an old farmstead in which much of the Wasson family are buried (tombstones dating back to the mid 1700s), including servants which lived with the family and were thus given their own little corner to mark the place they shared in the family. It’s been awhile since we’ve gone to clean-up the overgrowth, but I know my husband would love to be buried amongst his ancestors, knowing that the care of this family cemetery would then pass to his sons. It seems what’s missing these days is the sense of continuity…death has been so depersonalized, commercialized and sanitized. I have relatives buried all over the U.S. I envy my husband and the history connected to the family plot…


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