Cloud Hidden, Whereabouts Unknown

Roadside Musings

Cloud Hidden, Whereabouts Unknown


After a compelling conversation with author Perdita Finn, Rabbi Rami considers what he wants done with his body after death.

My wife and I are both organ donors, and periodically we talk about how we want what is left of our bodies to be disposed of when we die. We both prefer aquamation, a process by which the body is immersed in an alkaline water solution that slowly and gently reduces the body to powder. Where we differ is in what happens to the powder. She wants her ashes placed in an urn and then interred somewhere that would bear her name and that family could visit. If my wife dies before me, I will abide by her wishes, but when it comes to my ashes, I have other ideas.

My mom, dad, grandparents, and aunt are all buried in the same section of a graveyard run by the synagogue to which they all belonged. It is quite expensive to be buried with them. Though my sister plans to add graves for her family, I’m trying to talk her into the following: Assuming I die before her (I am her older brother), I’ve asked her to take my ashes, mix them in the soil of my dad’s grave, and, using a thick Sharpie, write my name on the bottom of his headstone with an arrow pointing to the earth.

Thus far she has refused my request, which is okay since this really was my Plan B. Plan A is to have my ashes taken somewhere up the Cumberland Plateau and simply tossed to the winds. I have spent many years teaching at St. Mary’s Retreat Center on the Plateau, and it reminds me of China and the poet Chia Tao’s line “cloud-hidden, whereabouts unknown.” There is something appealing to me about being gone to a place unknown; maybe even forgotten.

All this came to mind when I was reading Perdita’s Finn’s new book Take Back the Magic: Conversations with the Unseen World. The book opens with these lines: “In times past we could not have denied the daily presence of the dead in our lives. Those we love would have been buried nearby in the village cemetery, or even in our own backyards. We would have passed their graves frequently, tended their tombstones, and stopped by for the occasional chat. In those days, the bodies of our ancestors were close.”

I have no desire to have family drop by to chat once I’m dead. I don’t like it when they drop by without advance warning while I’m alive. My dog can do that, but not my kids. I like my privacy. To compensate for my hermit-like preference, I have written a series of life-lesson letters to my son and grandsons that they might read and reread when I am dead. To help them get over the urge to drop by my grave, I plan to not have a grave at all… cloud-hidden, whereabouts unknown. What can be better than that?

Listen to the podcast episode that inspired this essay here.

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Cloud Hidden Whereabouts Unknown

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