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Better to Bury than to Burn?

by Rabbi Rami ShapiroApril 22, 2019
Waffle House


Contributing editor Rabbi Rami requests that his memorial service be held at a Waffle House.

Which would you prefer: cremation or burial?

Someone tossed this question to me the other day after listening to a talk I had just given that had nothing to do with cremation or burial. 

“I’d rather live long and prosper,” I said, making the Vulcan salute that Leonard Nimoy adapted from the Jewish sign of blessing. “But assuming I was dead I would prefer cremation.” 

My reasons for this are three. First, it’s cheaper. Second, if I have my remains placed in a nice urn my kids might keep me with them wherever they move. And third, by not buying a burial plot I free up prime real estate so someone can put up a wind turbine or missile silo (depending on how things are going). 

Personally, while I don’t mind other people dying, I really have no desire to do so myself. Of course if not dying is going to be fun, not growing older would have to be part of the deal. I’d like to age into a healthy 80 and then stop aging. I want to be too old to worry about dating, dieting, and looking hip. A well-dressed 80-year-old is cool enough. Look at Leonard Cohen in his 80s to see what I am hoping for.

Given that spending eternity as Leonard Cohen is probably not in the cards for me, and having decided on cremation, the question now becomes what kind of memorial service do I want. There is no point leaving these decisions to your children: not only is it an unnecessary burden to place on them during their time of grief (assuming they are grieving and not perusing the Internet looking for ways to spend their imagined inheritance—I’m leaving each of my loved one a $25 gift card to iTunes), but chances are they will do what they want and not what you want. 

I have five requests of my kids regarding my memorial service.

First, hold it at a Waffle House. I love Waffle House, and as far as I can tell it is the only reason to live in the Confederacy. 

Second, no prayers or eulogy, just a Diet Coke toast to my memory and good conversation among the attendees.

Third, when paying the tab ask for the 10% Veterans Discount, as I am very proud of my three years as a USAF chaplain.

Fourth, tip extraordinarily well as these people are paid extraordinarily poorly. 

And fifth, ask the waitresses to have my ashes scattered, smothered, and covered—ash browns—and then spread around the building. If they refuse, try IHOP or just keep my ashes in a nice urn and take me with you wherever you go.  

Rabbi Rami Shipiro

Rabbi Rami Shapiro is an award-winning author, essayist, poet, and teacher. His spiritual advice column, “Roadside Assistance for the Spiritual Traveler,” addresses reader questions pertaining to religion, spirituality, faith, family, God, social issues, and more. His latest book is Surrendered—The Sacred Art: Shattering the Illusion of Control and Falling into Grace with Twelve-Step Spirituality.

He has this to say about religion: “To me, religions are like languages: no language is true or false; all languages are of human origin; each language reflects and shapes the mindset of the civilization that speaks it; there are things you can say in one language that you cannot say or cannot say as well in another; and the more languages you know, the more nuanced your understanding of life. Judaism is my mother tongue, yet in matters of the spirit I strive to be multi-lingual. In the end, however, the deepest language of the soul is silence.”

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