Mount Hebron Cemetery in Flushing, NY, is the final resting place of members of Karen Galatz's family.
Mount Hebron Cemetery in Flushing, NY, is the final resting place of members of Karen Galatz's family.

The eternal question of my grandparents’ cemetery care 

It’s that time of year. Not Thanksgiving. Not Hanukkah. Not even Christmas or New Year’s. Rather it’s that time of year when I’m asked about providing “perpetual” care for my grandparents’ cemetery plots.

These annual cemetery solicitation letters cause profound rumination and consternation. In some ways, this question of eternal care is bigger than Yom Kippur, which only affects my life, and just for that one year … unless, of course, I screw up big time, in which case I’m kaput, finito!

But the fate of these two cemetery plots … well, that’s huge. It overwhelms me.

I know it sounds stupid, but eternity is a long time. What will Mount Hebron Cemetery and the Cedar Grove Cemetery in Flushing, New York, look like in 100 years? Two hundred? In a millennium? Will they exist? Throw in climate change, global warming and sea rise, and the picture gets more complicated. Will the cemetery even be above ground?

And just like that — without fail — once I start pondering the annual endowed cemetery care conundrum, it happens. “In the Year 2525,” that 1969 song by Zager and Evans, starts buzzing in my brain.

The catchy but glum song tracks an apocalyptic future for mankind at approximately 1,000-year intervals, up to the year 9595: In the year 2525, if man is still alive, if woman can survive, … In the year 4545, you ain’t gonna need your teeth, won’t need your eyes. You won’t find a thing to chew. Nobody’s gonna look at you.”

With a future like that, who needs to worry about upkeep on cemetery plots? Or maybe that’s the point, maybe it’s a good idea to ensure I’ve got my grandparents covered (pardon the pun) in advance.

For two-plus decades, I’ve taken pride in paying the annual bills for “seasonal care” on the graves of my father’s parents, Morris and Esther Galatz. I have visited their graves only once, but when writing the checks, I feel I’m paying my respects.

Members of Karen Galatz’s family on her father’s side.
Morris and Esther Galatz and children

After my mother died in 2001, and the first notice about upkeep was forwarded to me, it was a revelation. I had never known about these cemetery plots, nor had I known these relatives. My grandmother died in 1928. My grandfather in 1951, three years before I was born.

My father was one of five sons. How it fell to him, the youngest of the surviving “boys,” to tend to the graves I don’t know. But, in turn, when he died, my mother took on the responsibility for 15 years, until she passed.

My parents married as teenagers. Yet my mother never met her mother-in-law, who died when my father was young. I wonder what thoughts my mother had as she wrote that annual check. Did she speculate about my father’s difficult childhood? Did she use it as a moment for mourning, or did she simply, mechanically pay the bill?

For me, this ritual is a source of awe and connection.

I think about my father, his siblings and my grandmother’s hard life filled with poverty, illness and early death. And in tending to these graves, I also feel that I’m honoring my father, now 37 years gone. It is an especially joyous mitzvah.

But these solicitations about perpetual care? They are an entirely different matter. When they first started arriving, I considered them unnerving and tossed them in the trash.

Now, however, I’m older. And I worry.

My own clock is ticking. How many more annual payments are in my future? Is it fair to pass this responsibility on to my children? Will they take pleasure in the task? Will they, children of the internet-everything-in-the-cloud generation, see value in preserving and honoring the past?

And so, with my own mortality looming, this year I retrieved the solicitation from the garbage.

The idea of perpetual care still makes me laugh and cringe. Yet knowing my grandparents are taken care of, whatever fate befalls the planet in the long run — and me in the next couple of decades — also seems strangely satisfying.

So, Cedar Grove Cemetery administrators, be on the lookout. The check isn’t quite in the mail, but I’m thinking about it.

While time waits for no man or woman, I’m confident there’s a little time left to contemplate this annual solicitation … at least until year’s end, when rates go up effective Jan. 1, 2022.

Karen Galatz
Karen Galatz

Karen Galatz is the author of Muddling through Middle Age, a weekly humor blog. An award-winning journalist, her nonfiction and fiction essays and stories have been featured in multiple publications. She is a former resident Berkeley who now lives in Reno and can be reached at [email protected].