Resting in Peace?
Mass and sympathy cards, together with tombstone inscriptions, eulogies and other funerary verbiage consistently advise our departed loved ones to “rest in peace” as though they had a choice in the matter. In today’s mobile society, there’s no guarantee that those who are blissfully resting in peace may continue to do so.
The issue at hand is that people relocating to a far-away place, sometimes can’t bear the thought of leaving their deceased loved ones behind. Those loved ones may get their eternal slumber rudely interrupted, first by a backhoe, then by all the transportation and handling necessary to get them re-interred hundreds or even thousands of miles away. Disinterred human remains need special preparation, in order to meet applicable health codes. It would be the funeral director’s responsibility to see to those details.
And no, you may not strap their coffin to the roof of your SUV, put it in checked baggage or stuff it into a POD. Moving the deceased requires the services of a licensed funeral director at both ends of the trip. If considerable distance is involved, human remains may be shipped as freight on an air carrier. The cost of moving a decedent can be considerable.
During World War II, thousands of American GIs were buried in national cemeteries on foreign soil. The military gave the next-of-kin a time period in which they could elect to have their family members disinterred and brought back to the States. In this instance, the military managed all the administrative and transportation issues, and thousands of American military personnel, who gave their lives for their country, have been returned to American soil.
We’ll need to buy our loved ones a new burial plot and sell the existing plot or mausoleum drawer. For those who would move human remains, there’s no need to have it coincide with the already complex issues of selling and buying a new home, especially where state lines are involved. There are all the change-of-address notifications, obtaining new homeowners’ and automobile insurance, drivers’ licenses and registrations, and finding new doctors. If you really feel strongly about moving deceased loved ones, this can be done when the immediate issues of moving have been completed. No doubt, there will be at least one credit card, investment account, doctor’s office or magazine subscription you forgot to notify. It’s best to allow those you had previously advised to rest in peace to continue doing so until the immediate dust of relocating has settled. If nothing else, the deceased are very patient.
I recently moved from Long Island to North Carolina. I left my mother and father behind in the cemetery of their choosing. My father came from a large family and he, his parents, siblings and their spouses all purchased adjoining plots in a Long Island cemetery. When living, the family would often spend Sundays together at my grandma’s house. They are all gone now, so I would like to think that everyday is Sunday for them. It is where my parents wanted to be. It helped assuage my concerns at moving five hundred miles away.
Frankly, I did feel some remorse at not visiting my parents’ grave on those important dates in their lives: their birthday, the day they passed and their wedding anniversary. So, part of the stress of moving is the potential guilt trip involved in leaving them behind. I must admire those whose faith is strong enough to allow them to believe that mortal remains are exactly that. For them, the people they knew and loved are not in the cemetery but perhaps off on a cloud somewhere in the great beyond.
This brings us to another potentially touchy subject: if you’re an only child, the decision to move deceased parents may be yours alone but if there are other siblings involved, this can devolve into a family slugfest. Likewise, if you suffered the early loss of a spouse and that’s spouse’s parents are still alive, you may still have the final word but those in-laws can bog you down in very expensive civil proceedings. You must ask yourself whether or not it is worth the fight. There may also be some compelling religious and cultural issues that could influence your final decision regarding just how final their final resting place really is.
A special situation arises when you include a surviving parent in your move. Some years later, that parent passes but their spouse is buried in another part of the country. Understandably, you may want your parents buried together so either the second to pass is returned to the previously existing grave-site or the first parent is disinterred and brought to your new location.
There are also cases involving criminality where a crime victim, buried as an unknown, is subsequently identified through DNA or other evidence. Most times, family members will insist on a proper burial closer to home.
In my opinion and with a very recent 500-mile move just completed, I think it’s best not disturb a loved one’s resting place without a compelling reason, especially if the deceased was buried according to their wishes. No one will think any less of you. Visiting a cemetery is often a solitary and emotional matter in which you may re-acquaint yourself with your memories. You may do this without standing at their actual grave. Instead, you may plan a cemetery visit anytime you visit your former place of residence.