The God Squad: Visiting graves is no longer a universal habit

Rabbi Marc Gellman, Tribune Content Agency on

Q: Our two daughters are in their 50’s. We tried to encourage them to visit their grandparents’ graves, but they have never gone. They are very spiritual and are convinced that you can speak to them without going to a cemetery.

As we get older, we worry that they will not come to visit our graves either. Do you believe we should encourage them to change their way of thinking about this? Thank you. – (From I and S in Smithtown, NY)

A: Yes, I think you should encourage your daughters to visit the graves of your parents, but you can do this in a loving way. Rather than simply ordering them to visit, why not tell them that you would like to go with them to visit the graves of your parents. In this way the visit is not just some onerous obligation for them alone, but a loving family excursion to honor your and their ancestors.

There is something deeply satisfying in leaving a small stone on their headstones. It is more than a thought. It is an act of spiritual touching in which you touch the stone that is touching the headstone that is touching the earth that is touching their bodies that are returning to the dust from which they came.

My recent lively debate over in-ground burial versus cremation, in which I tried my best to defend in-ground burial, is relevant here. A grave is a place in the earth; ashes from a cremation are just ashes without a place. If the ashes are buried, why not just bury the body and let it gradually return to the earth? Also, when you visit the graves perhaps you could make a point of telling some stories about your parents that would remind your daughters that they did not come from just anyone, they came from you and you came from them.

The point of all rituals, including death rituals, is that they are more than just a thought. They are a spiritual act that comes from a thought and the thought comes from a belief and the belief comes from a life of love and sacrifice. Rituals help to fix the story of our families and our faith into our deepest memory. Beyond scooping up your daughters and hoping that when you die they will continue the ritual of visiting the grave, there is little you can do.

We need a place to mark our passing from this life into the life of the world to come.

More on my message from Tommy…

Q: Something to add to the mystery of messages from the dead: My husband died in 1999 at the age of 52, leaving our 14-year-old son in a state of almost uncontrollable anger and rebellion. He and I had many, many confrontations as we worked through our grief.


My husband had an old truck with a car phone installed (remember those?) which had, on this occasion, been disconnected for more than a year. My son and I were sitting in the truck, ignition off, having a loud and emotional argument when that long- disconnected phone began to ring. I can assure you that we stopped arguing and sat there stunned. I am a hard-boiled, cynical attorney with no interest in the metaphysical, but even now, the memory of that message from John is powerful. I enjoy your column and never miss it. Thank you. – (From S in Chapel Hill, NC)

Q: Hello! I just wanted you to know that I really enjoyed the story in the

Sunday Paper … "A message from my best friend in heaven." I think we all hope for a sign. – (From C)

Q: After reading God Squad today, it brought tears to my eyes, to know and feel all the time thinking of my mom and other family members who have passed, that they hear me. Thank you soooo much, Rabbi. God bless you! – (From R)

Q: I read your column, "A message from Heaven..." I too don't care whether it is a 'biblical prohibition'. I admire your courage in writing about Father Tom's message from Heaven on the anniversary of his birth. It renewed my faith that there is, " life ever after" and that our sins will be forgiven if we believe in God. Faith is believing in something even if there is no logical explanation and you demonstrate that in your narrative.

It is not easy to trust ourselves to accept what we believe to be true, even though it may be unexplainable or appears to defy logical reasoning. In today's world, I suffer daily from trying to weed through the influx of lies and deception and follow my heart to find truth. Thank you. – (From P)

(Send ALL QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS to The God Squad via email at Rabbi Gellman is the author of several books, including “Religion for Dummies,” co-written with Fr. Tom Hartman. Also, the new God Squad podcast is now available.)

©2024 The God Squad. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.




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