I'm sorry to read of your loss, although it's good to see that your mom lived a long -- and hopefully happy (on the whole) -- life and also that the funeral went well. I hope you're handling her passing as well as can be expected.
Because your children aren't Jewish, it seems to me that it's important for you to create a will that specifies not only how your belongings and resources should be allocated, but also how your death and burial should be handled by your children and other loved ones. After the document is made, it would probably be worthwhile to sit down with the person you choose as the executor of your will(s) and explain the significance of your wishes (not about belongings and resources, just about the death and burial).
Yes, you'll need to find out if the funeral home will deal with your body in the way you wish (i.e., Jewishly). If they are not able to -- I see no reason why they shouldn't be able to, really, except for potential bigotry -- perhaps you can make arrangements with the closest Jewish funeral home (even if it is some distance).
Why do you think your rabbi wouldn't want to be involved? He or she should!
The only solution is communication! Make sure that whoever might be involved in planning is aware of what is and isn't desired/desirable. Plan ahead - and TELL people - put it in writing (NOT in the will - those aren't read until after). If at the hospital, make sure the hospital knows - if seeing a doctor, make sure the doctor (and office staff) know. If a regular at synagogue, make sure the rabbi/secretary/chevra kadisha know....
The question for me is: What should I want? The only thing for sure is that I want to be buried in the plots we purchased which are in a non-Jewish cemetery. I don't want any viewing and I don't want to be embalmed and would like a pine casket. Is it okay to be wearing my normal clothing and not a shroud?
Should I plan for a service? Maybe just at the grave? Our rabbi implied that he wouldn't be involved with someone being buried at a non-Jewish cemetery.
He probably can't - contractually. A Jewish burial has several requirements including being buried among other Jews, which a secular cemetery cannot provide.
Shira - you NEED to talk to the cemetery management. It is very likely that they CANNOT bury an unembalmed body - it is against several local and state regulations unless special exemptions have been made.
It is one of the major issues with Jewish cemeteries and state/local/environmental regs. A Jewish burial REQUIRES an unembalmed body in a very simple coffin. A 'regular' cemetery on the other hand REQUIRES embalming AND often requires that the coffin be entombed in a cement vault - which Jewish law and custom would refuse....
Really - talk to that cemetery management before you go much further.
Jewish law/custom concerning burials is designed to reduce the differentiation between wealthy and poor, and is designed also to hasten the body's decomposition.
So - a Jewish burial requires: speedy burial (within 24 hours if possible) NO embalming NO fancy casket NO cement vault NO 'daily clothing'
The dead person's body is not left alone from death to burial - someone stays. The dead person's body is washed with clean water, and dressed in a white garment (don't consider it a 'shroud', it isn't the same thing). No 'viewing'. No flowers.
That's just the burial - disposal of a body. What you really asked about was the FUNERAL, which is a ceremony.
You already know there is no viewing, and usually no flowers - non-Jews would probably find the lack of flowers (and general simplicity and speed) of a Jewish funeral unusual and perhaps disturbing.
Some people have a ceremony that is not part of the burial, and that is what I would recommend to you. Don't plan on having people head to the cemetery afterward for the actual burial, just plan for a nice 'celebration of life' sort of deal at some convenient time. invite friends.
For the burial, talk to the rabbi I guess - or the funeral home director. Do you actually WANT people to be graveside? Is it important to you for their to be witnesses? For kaddish to be said? (for kaddish you need a minyan).
Book for you to look up - The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning.
Simcha, do you mean just have a get-together with relatives and friends? Perhaps at someone's home? Of course it will depend on who dies first, my husband or I and if we are really old by then and have no friends or relatives left.
Lots of funeral homes host 'celebrations of life', so do some churches - and, of course, homes and businesses - including bars! The last one I went to was more formal, it was at a funeral home, and it was well after the body had been taken care of and buried. There was a kind of service, a memorial book for people to sign - finger food - encouragement for people to bring photos or a written note with something about the deceased. Kind of nice.
The D'var Torah at my minyan this past Shabbat was really as the person giving it said a "public service message". It was tied to the Torah reading which talks about Sarah's death and the arrangements Abraham goes through to secure a burial place. The person giving the d'var talked about losing her mother when she was only 21 and feeling so grateful to the people of her community who supported her family at their time of need. And that she vowed that when she was able that she would work to help other families in mourning. She's in her 50's now, and she has indeed taken lead coordinating roles for shiva arrangements for people she knows. She also mentioned the book that Simcha gave the link for.
Anyway, she wanted to announce that the minyan Shiva Committee had been reorganized to spread out the responsibilities for coordinating meals and services for shivas. And this week a minyan member is sitting shiva. Most members of my minyan observe shiva traditionally with services in the morning and evening at their homes so that they can say Kaddish.
The Jewish tradition is that mourners do not leave their homes during the week of shiva (which starts after the funeral service and burial) except to go to synagogue for Shabbat services. Instead, their friends and family come to their home, generally providing meals for the family and snacks for visitors, and having services in the home so that Kaddish can be said. The mourner is supposed to be able to do what they feel comfortable with: whether that means sitting in silence or reminiscing about the life of the deceased. Many mourners put out photos and mementos of the dead person to share with visitors. I have heard some really interesting and amazing life stories at these shiva gatherings. I remember how surprised I was to learn that a member's mother who had died had converted to Judaism as a young woman. I had no idea that her mother was a convert!
I am learning more about Jewish funerals and how we can plan for ours.
Our Conservative rabbi says he is more open to doing services at cemeteries other than Jewish ones. Ours is a city cemetery. If I understand correctly, the burial is halakhically correct when a Jew owns their plot in a cemetery which we do.
The cement vault that would be used is open at the bottom. There is a ledge around the bottom for the casket to sit on and not fall through. That is accepted at our local cemetery. You have to have some sort of vault and this one passes muster. Most cemeteries around here, even Jewish ones, require some sort of vault. Otherwise, the ground may suddenly give way where the casket was located.
We could use the funeral home that is about 30 miles away that people in our synagogue use. We would get a Jewish casket, no embalming and the body would be prepared by people of the synagogue.
I like having all these plans made in advance. I learned that with my mother. The more plans you have in advance, the easier it is for all concerned. It is hard to make plans when you are in the midst of grieving.
Making funeral arrangements in advance certainly makes it easier on the survivors. In addition to having fewer logistics to work out, they will have the reassurance of knowing that they are doing just what you wanted. I know people who had to deal with the unexpected deaths relatives who were somewhat traumatized by having to make those kind of decisions in the midst of their shock and grief.
I just remembered a story appropriate for this forum having to do with conversion and the Jewish response to death: The father of a college friend of mine was married to three different women in his life: all Jewish, all though the last one did not convert until after he died. My friend's father was not born Jewish. His first wife (my friend's mother) was a secular Jew. After he divorced, he married a more religious Jewish woman and converted to Judaism before the marriage. I think that second wife died, and he re-married again, this time to a woman who was not Jewish but he continued to live as a Jew. So when he died, his rabbi did the service and helped to comfort his widow. Then, as the rabbi helped her to deal with her grief, she became attracted to Judaism and converted a couple of years later.