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Because of the nature of chronic illness, the spouse will often be hospitalized or in a nursing home when it is time to depart this world. Due to the close monitoring in these places, the family is often asked to come and be with the dying person when it is assumed the end is near. Therefore, when the death does occur, the family can often bury the loved one quickly (as is appropriate in our tradition) and not have to wait for the children to come from far away. But just because a spouse is chronically ill, it does not mean arrangements have been made. This is especially true if the person was young as can be the case with chronic illness. And so, the family is left to make arrangements quickly, while in great pain from suffering the loss. As a result others often question their choices – choices of cemetery, time, location. etc. – without realizing there was neither presence of mind nor choice in doing what needed to be done.
Chananya was a well spouse. His wife became chronically ill a few years after they were married. They were blessed with three children. As the illness worsened, Chananya was so involved with caring for his wife and raising his children he was not able to think ahead and prepare for the worse. After all, his wife was a young woman. Emotionally, preparing for the loss of his young wife was something he could not get himself to do. And so, when his wife died he had no plot for her. Because she died early Friday, Chananya wanted to have the funeral Friday midday.
As Chanaya scrambled to make arrangements he discovered there were no plots available near his home. The only plot he could purchase on such short notice was a 90-minute drive away. And so that was where the funeral was. Meanwhile, not understanding the circumstances, many of Channaya’s friends were upset that he had chosen such a far place. Being Friday, and needing to prepare for Shabbos and get home before candle lighting, many people chose not to attend the funeral. The community was very upset at Chanaya’s choice, not realizing he never had one.
Sadie and Morrism, an older couple, had chosen early on to make arrangements for their end. But as Morris’s illness worsened and it became harder for Sadie to manage, her children insisted that they move closer to them. Shortly after the move, and before alternate arrangements could be made, Morris passed on. The arrangements they had previously made were for hundreds of miles from where they had moved to be closer to their children. It didn’t make any sense to use those arrangements. Morris had died on a Friday morning, as well.
The hospital, knowing the end was near, had called the family in days before. So there was no reason to delay the funeral. But, arrangements had to be made. The in-laws offered to help and made arrangements quickly, so the funeral took place appropriately and promptly. Friends and colleagues from where Morris had previously lived understood that they could not be at the funeral, but many were determined to go to the grave when they passed through the city.
Only later did the family and the in-laws discover that the cemetery in which Morris was buried did not allow English inscriptions on the gravestone. Even numbers for age and date of death had to be in Hebrew letters. It was obvious that some of the people wanting to visit the grave would have a hard time locating it. Many people voiced their upset to Sadie, asking her how she had chosen that place. This not only upset Sadie, but made the in-laws feel awful, as well.
It is very important but also enormously difficult to prepare for the inevitable. With chronic illness, it is even more necessary to do it early on. That is the only way you can make sure that everything is as you wish and less stress is placed on the family. However, if that is not possible for any reason, it is important for friends and family to realize that last minute choices are limited and should trust that the family acted appropriately within the bounds of the choices they had. Comments that question the choices made are inappropriate and only cause the family coping with the enormous grief they have to question themselves and make them feel worse.