Cemetery of DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley
New Perspectives

What Happens to My Body When I Die?

It was dinnertime on Father’s Day this year when Claire looked at me and said, “wait, we didn’t go to the cemetery today!” She didn’t look upset, just surprised. Didn’t we always go to the cemetery on Father’s Day?

In fact, we haven’t always done that. The very first Father’s Day I celebrated without Shawn, we went to the toy store and the local diner and the pool. I wanted to make sure it felt like a fun day for the kids, and for me. While we went in 2019 and 2020, this year we all wanted to celebrate Chris, and though we spent time remembering Shawn, we didn’t go to the cemetery.

That’s okay, I figured. Shawn’s birthday always immediately follows Father’s Day, so that would be the day we’d go to the cemetery. I told Claire that, and she was satisfied.

We ended up going a few days before his birthday. Chris was out of town (though that’s not why we decided to go then, as he happily will come with us) and we didn’t have much to do so I figured “why not?” Everyone was out of school and it was a beautiful day that felt right for a visit. I planned to go after we stopped by our local pool to cool off.

At the pool, I hung out with my friends Michelle and Emily, talking about our kids and reflecting on how much everyone had grown over the past year. I told them that after the pool, I was planning on taking the kids to the cemetery. This led us to a discussion about Shawn’s grave, and how my name is on the gravestone. Was it still my plan to be buried with Shawn?

It’s something I’ve contemplated a lot recently, though it’s a super strange thought experiment for many reasons. Shawn and I never talked about anything like this until a few days before he died, when he made an offhand comment to me that he wanted to be buried, if it came to that. It was a 10 second conversation, and it was all I had to go on when he died. So when I had to decide on what to do – less than 24 hours after his death – I went with the cemetery option. I chose a gravesite that could hold both of our bodies, someday. When my friends asked about it, I told them that no matter what happened in the future, I wanted a spot where my children could visit their parents together.

But now it’s all much more complicated. While my love story with Shawn will always be a part of me, it is Chris that I am marrying and it is Chris that I love. It is Chris that is raising Claire, Austin and Tommy with me. This, of course, is a story I’ve discussed on the blog, so I won’t go into it right now. And while there have been a number of emotional aspects that I’ve had to navigate as a widow who has fallen in love again, there have also been some problems of logistics. To put it bluntly: what happens to my body after I die? Do I go with Shawn, or with Chris?

I mean, I guess it doesn’t matter a lot, as I’ll be dead. But still.

The thing is, I now want to be with Chris, even after I die. Does that make me a bad widow? I actually asked my friends this question that day, as we chatted at the pool. “No!” they replied, because that is the only right answer to this question and because they actually believe it.

In fact, Emily reminded me that she had actually asked me at the time if I was sure if it was the right decision to buy a double plot at the cemetery. She was grieving (terribly so, as Shawn was one of her best friends), but she had still (mostly) silently wondered whether I might want to consider that I was just 38, and likely had a lot more life to live.

But I couldn’t see it. I could just see my life, stretching on forever, without Shawn. Bereft and alone until the end of my life.

Of course that’s how I felt! And thus, Emily and Michelle and all my other friends supported my decision to eventually be buried with Shawn. They may have considered something that I couldn’t yet wrap my head around – that I’d fall in love again – but they also knew that the best thing to do at the time was to support all of the decisions I was making.

It’s funny, because until the other day at the pool, I didn’t remember having that initial conversation about the double cemetery plot with any of my friends. They were so supportive that all I can remember is their their love and devotion – even when they thought that maybe, just maybe, I might change my mind later on.

I’m not sad that three and a half years ago, I made the decision to be buried with Shawn. That was what was right for me at the time. Now, it’s trickier, but….it’s also kinda awesome that it’s trickier.

So just in case you’ve read this whole blog post thinking that the end would have a resolution, I’ll try and give you one. I actually don’t want my body to be buried when I die. I’d like to be cremated, and I’d like to figure out a way to leave a bit of those ashes with Shawn, while the rest go with Chris. Maybe that means they scatter in the wind in different places I’ve loved: some at the cemetery I go to every time I head to Costco and others on the shores of the Maine coast where someday I’ll retire. Or maybe that’s not what will happen, and maybe Chris and I will find another place that we love. Maybe we’ll have a whole other life adventure that I can’t see from today’s vantage point.

Right now, I can only guess at where life will go, just like I did three-and-a-half years ago.

6 Comments

  • Carol

    Not sure if you would ever consider cremation but it could be the solution. My Father in Law passed last year, he was predeceased by his first wife, and his name was on her headstone. He subsequently remarried after her passing. When he was diagnosed with terminal cancer, he told his wife he wanted to be cremated, so he was. We buried some of his ashes with his first wife and when his second wife passes, we will bury their ashes together.

  • Leigh Peltier

    I buried my husband’s ashes 2 days ago in his burial plot where his deceased wife is (passed in 1994) and his mother’s ashes are (passed in 2019). There was never a doubt that he would go there, and for my whole life I’ve never had the urge to be buried. I’d like my ashes strewn about in a couple of meaningful places. I said it as a child and adult – both before and after I met widower Chris. There is room for my ashes there but I just don’t feel it. And fortunately I don’t feel that I’m giving anything up. Our love was a true and meaningful love. We were very strong together and while our time together was cut short – I will forever be grateful for what we had and love him until I die. Burial isn’t that important to me and I hope that you can come to the point where you have no conflict.

    • M Brimley

      This is beautiful – thanks so much for sharing. I love that you put your husband’s ashes where he desired, and that you feel so content in everything that you got to share with him. That’s such a beautiful thing!

  • Laura Ernst-Davies

    Same here—I have a double plot with my first husband and there isn’t space on either side for Tom. My parents have a double plot next to us—my dad passed in 2012 and my mom is remarried to a widower whose first wife is buried at the same cemetery. Mom and Dennis decided they would someday be buried with their first spouses and everyone is fine with that. However, I’m with you, I don’t want to be separated from Tom (this is his first marriage and like Chris, doesn’t have any biological children of his own but is helping me raise all five of mine, ages 10-23) but I also want my children to be able to visit both of their parents. Our cemetery says either we can both be cremated and placed in the same space or one of us can be buried and one cremated and still share the same plot. I’ve even considered moving Jim to a space where there are three plots. Not sure yet what we’ll decide!

    • M Brimley

      It’s complicated! I do think that these things work themselves out with time, but as widows, I know we’re always thinking about the “what if” scenarios. But I love how you’re thinking about it. Thanks for sharing!

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