I recently came across the deed for two funeral lots I own on Long Island.
One is the final resting place of my late husband, Mark.
The other, next to it, is empty, but it was never for me.
I bought it for his
Twelve years ago, Mark and I were in the midst of an amicable separation,
We had lived apart for two years, but had not yet divorced.
The last time I saw him, he asked if he could come see our children, then teenagers.
We spent a relaxing July afternoon as a family in our backyard, for which I am grateful.
I remember thinking that if it had been like this more often,
maybe we would still be together.
At about four in the afternoon, I heard him say:
His words still haunt me.
That night, at his girlfriend's house, where he lived, he suffered
a heart attack
and went into cardiac arrest.
Paramedics returned his heartbeat, but he never regained consciousness.
The prognosis was grim.
Five days later, we took him off life support;
he was 57 years old.
He and I had never discussed burial in our nearly twenty years of marriage, let alone buying plots.
His girlfriend, who had envisioned a long and happy future with him, was devastated.
I liked him;
to all my family too.
But as Mark's wife, I was legally in charge.
It was my job to buy him a burial plot.
“Why don't you buy two?” said my sister-in-law.
She was married to Mark's brother and technically stopped being my sister-in-law after Mark's death, although we are still very close.
He meant a lot for Mark and one for his girlfriend.
"It would be a lovely gesture."
I looked at her, puzzled.
Mark's girlfriend was several years younger than him.
Surely he would meet someone else in due time.
But my sister-in-law was right:
If the prospect of spending eternity with Mark helped her feel included in an awkward situation where she had no legal or family ties, I thought why not.
We were in the intensive care unit at Mark's bedside when I told him.
He burst into
tears of happiness.
A few hours before Mark was to be taken off life support, I drove up Wellwood Avenue, a four-mile stretch lined with so many cemeteries I called it Cemetery Row, to the lot owned by Mark's brother and sister-in-law. .
There I met my brother-in-law and they took us to a sales office, where a desk separated us from a salesperson.
“I would like to buy two lots,” I told him.
I told him about my husband's serious medical situation.
“Of course,” he replied, offering me his condolences.
"I suppose they will share the tombstone."
“The other lot is not for me.
It's for his girlfriend."
His eyebrows rose.
People say that the eyes are the windows to the soul;
I say it's the eyebrows.
Leaning forward, he looked at my brother-in-law.
It was clear that he was dealing with a crazy wife.
“They were getting divorced,” my brother-in-law explained.
"Also, my brother's girlfriend is not Jewish."
“You have to be Jewish to be buried here,” the sales representative said.
"This is a Jewish cemetery."
"I know," I told him.
"He has told me that he is talking to a rabbi about converting."
The seller shuffled some papers.
If this woman wanted to buy a lot for her almost-ex-husband's girlfriend, who might or might not convert to Judaism, it wasn't her problem.
A shared headstone would have been presumptuous, so I bought a single one in Barre gray granite.
The inscription read "Beloved Companion" near the top, and further down, "Beloved Companion," which sounded more dignified than "Beloved Boyfriend."
I imagined curious passers-by trying to read between those two lines.
After paying 36 monthly payments, I received the deed to the cemetery.
By then, Mark's girlfriend and I had almost lost touch.
We hadn't talked about the plot again and I didn't know if she had converted.
More years passed.
I found out that she had a boyfriend who became her husband.
I sent her a text with my best wishes, which she warmly thanked.
Buying this lot from him had been a lovely idea, if an unlikely one.
I had a lot left that I didn't want
Why bury me next to someone I was divorcing?
I called the cemetery to ask if they could sell it, relieved that I wouldn't have to deal with the joint headstone, as Mark and I had instead opted for a joint divorce with lawyers.
But I haven't moved on and I don't know what's stopping me.
At 64, I am in excellent health, but the growing awareness of my
makes my procrastination a bit quixotic.
And the thought of leaving him there just gnawed at me.
Our breakup wasn't bad, but in marriage we had argued so much that a friend called us
"the odd couple."
For eight years I have been in a loving and committed relationship with a wonderful man who has an ex-wife and two children of his own.
}We rarely argue.
But we're not married or living together, so it's unlikely we'd be buried together.
One Saturday, over breakfast in his kitchen in Brooklyn, I casually mentioned my dilemma and said:
Do you and your ex have lots together?
I immediately wondered if maybe this wasn't an appropriate conversation to have first thing in the morning.
They didn't have them, he said, and he wanted to be cremated anyway
Also, it's not just who I'm buried with, but where.
I moved to Long Island for Mark and spent the next two decades counting down the days until I could return to Manhattan, which I did three years after he died, when our youngest son left for college.
Now I feel Mark dragging me back.
This time, forever.
However, where would he go?
My parents, married for almost 59 years, are buried side by side in Queens, the neighborhood where I was raised, but there are no vacant places around.
There may be room elsewhere in that graveyard, and there are others nearby, but do I want to spend the afterlife alone and surrounded by strangers?
It doesn't matter that this is just how I live now, quite happy: alone in a skyscraper surrounded by strangers.
But if you think it's hard to find a decent place to live in Manhattan, good luck finding one to be dead in.
I asked the two people who would presumably care most about my posthumous whereabouts: my daughter and son, now young adults.
“It's up to you,” my son said.
My daughter was more pragmatic.
"It would be much easier for us to visit you if you were with dad."
But would they visit us?
Now we do not visit.
I asked if I could keep my ashes in an urn.
There was no need for separate cemeteries.
"Could you share me," I said.
"Half for you, half for your brother."
His response was blunt:
“And if you compost me?
It could be dead and green at the same time."
"Good idea," he replied.
"But I would like you to be whole."
I ran my thumb over the raised stamp of writing.
What was I holding onto?
Why weren't two years of negotiations enough to break our frayed marriage bond and why, if our marriage was so difficult, our separation hadn't been so dramatic?
He had pushed for an amicable and collaborative divorce, but nothing happened.
For two years, we led separate lives without crashing the party.
We finally relaxed with each other, free of anger fueled by long-unfulfilled marital expectations.
It was like being half asleep, under the covers, before waking up to the blinding reality that you're alone.
Cemeteries are not just for the dead;
they are for surviving family members, whether they visit them or not.
If I prioritize my role as a mother, which is what I do, it's clear who should occupy that burial plot.
What is not so clear is why I felt closer to Mark after his death than during our life together.
Death has a way of softening things up, as if my marriage were an old, battered photo and I inadvertently kept cutting out the ugly and retouching the blemishes.
I had to bury my identity as his ex so I could be his widow.
Maybe buying a piece of land for his girlfriend was a way of pretending it wasn't really for me.
I tried to imagine my tombstone next to his, with an identical inscription:
Beloved companion”, which would further fuel the curiosity of passers-by.
“Were they married?” they would wonder.
"Were they husband and wife?"
Separating is hard.
Sometimes it never ends.
I imagine Mark and I buried next to each other, arguing for all eternity.
Perhaps I could add one more line at the bottom of my tombstone, an extra clue:
"I wasn't supposed to be buried here."
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c.2023 The New York Times Company
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