By Judi Markowitz
My house is filled with a vast number of family photos. Most rooms contain pictures of my children, siblings, grandchildren and parents. As I ascend the stairs to the second floor, and look at the gallery hanging on the walls, I can readily see how quickly the years have passed. When my parents and in-laws were alive, I would marvel at how great they looked at bar and bat mitzvahs, anniversary celebrations, birthday parties, and just everyday life scenarios. These framed memories are precious to me — they are imprinted in my mind.
When I stand on the landing now and slowly approach the last two steps leading up to the bedrooms, I think about their ages. I contemplate my own age as well and make comparisons.
The photos have taken on new meaning now that my parents and two sets of in-laws are no longer with us (I remained close with my ex-husband’s parents and the rest of their family). I often smile as I gaze at their faces and think about how lucky our family was to have them in our lives. Occasionally a tear is added into the equation and the loss becomes fresh once again. No matter how many years have flown by since they left us — the hurt remains.
I turned 70 last December and while going up the stairs, as I do every day, a thought suddenly crossed my mind. For the first time in my life, I contemplated my children looking at pictures of me after I am gone. I wondered how they would handle this transition in life. We are a close family and knowing I was no longer a phone call or a visit away would be challenging.
Saying good-bye to a loved one is never easy. I know my sons will eventually adjust to the situation, but when you have a severely disabled child, the image of this time is even more devastating. The very thought is gut-wrenching. How do you explain this phase of life to your child who has special needs? To this day, I constantly talk to my daughter, Lindsay, about her grandparents who loved her dearly. But their presence is missed, and words only go so far.
My dad passed away in 2001 and my mom in 2010. It was at the latter date when my husband Jeffrey and I started to talk about the prospect of buying burial plots in the same cemetery as my family. These discussions are not exactly easy. We agreed that it was important but decided to put it on hold until the summer when I would be on vacation from teaching.
Summer came and went. Then each proceeding summer we said that it was time to do the deed, but nothing happened. Shopping for cemetery plots was not my idea of a good time — after all, I was on vacation. I genuinely enjoy shopping but investigating the intricacies of a cemetery plot and all it entails is distressing. Facing one’s mortality is not an easy chore.
Jeffrey, and I were at a funeral last summer, and it happened to be at the cemetery where my parents are buried. He asked if I liked the site. I looked around and said there weren’t any trees — I need trees. I also added that it was very close to the main highway — too much noise from traffic. He gave me a quizzical look that spoke volumes and said, “Does all that really matter in the end?” I suppose it doesn’t, but while I’m alive, it certainly fits into the equation.
When my parents completed their funeral arrangements, my dad handed me their cemetery plot information in a neat folder. On the cover was my dad’s handwriting. “Lakeside – section H” — it was a double header for him and my mom. My dad also wrote on the cover it would be their new “retirement home.” He was quite the comedian.
Years later it occurred to Jeffrey and I that purchasing plots by my parents would be a fine idea. They were lakeside, and the view was pleasant. We discovered there were three spaces available — exactly right for us and Lindsay. But as usual, we hesitated, and the march of time continued. Upon our next visit to the cemetery, we observed that my parents had new neighbors. Our idea went down the tubes.
As each proceeding year went by, and there was still inaction on our part, we realized that we had to kick it in gear, whether we liked it or not. So, shopping for cemeteries truly began last year. We had to expand our network of Jewish cemeteries and consider the top prospects along with their price tag. Leaving this work to our children would not be fair. I’m glad that our parents had similar thoughts.
I began by calling the prospective cemeteries on my list. I didn’t need to set up a visit since, unfortunately, I attended many funerals at all of them. Also, I wanted to minimize our exposure to people outside of our family and friends because Covid cases in the Detroit area were still on the rise. So, I let my fingers do the walking. The specific sites of interest within the cemetery would have to wait until we made our final decision.
Everyone I spoke with was genuinely kind and congenial. I thought that their jobs had to be quite taxing. After introductions, I inquired about rates. I learned there were varying sections in most cemeteries which escalated in price accordingly. As in real estate it’s all about location, location, location.
I never realized how much was involved in purchasing cemetery plots. I began to compare it to purchasing a house. For instance, how much am I willing to pay for this piece of property with my new address on it? Will there be a lake, a pond, and are there enough trees and flowers for my liking? Landscaping is important. Another question that begs answering — is the location close enough for my children to visit or, at least do a drive by to say hello?
I also learned that a cemetery was like a department store – there are a wide range of prices for the prospective customer. Plots may cost anywhere between $500 to $10,000. There are also costs for opening and closing the plot. Decisions must be made concerning the purchase of an outer burial container (the cement work surrounding the plot). Next, weather is a consideration — is there a need for a tent? This is an extra charge as well.
According to Jewish custom an unveiling, (placement of a gravestone and its installation) are usually done within a year after the funeral. This can be quite costly as well. Flowers can be billed yearly, or, for a flat fee, one can have perpetual care for the plot. Last, but not least, there are administrative fees. That darn paperwork! Once tallied, these items can range from the low end of $2,300 and to the high end of $14,500. And these items are just estimates— it’s enough to make your head spin!
I am pleased to report that our shopping venture is nearly complete. A final decision for our final resting place is on the horizon. We are narrowing the prospects and won’t be putting this off any longer. After contemplating the best fit, our retirement home will be purchased. However, we don’t intend to notify the post office of an address change anytime soon.
Judi Markowitz is a retired high school English teacher of 34 years. She primarily taught 12th grade and had the pleasure of her three sons gracing her classes. In addition, she taught debate, forensics, and Detroit film. Judi has four adult children and seven wonderful grandchildren. She is married to Jeffrey Markowitz, whom she met in high school.
Judi grew up in Oak Park, Mich. which had a stellar school district, with excellent teachers. The city provided activities for all–and there were even sidewalks. Judi moved to Huntington Woods as an adult, which is a half mile from her childhood home. She wanted the same experience for her children as she had growing up, and Huntington Woods provided that. The View from Four Foot Two is Judi’s first book.