I am sorry for your loss. This must be a truly difficult time for you and your family.
The place of K’vod ha-Met (Respect of the Dead) holds a cherished position in Judaism. As a matter of fact, the respect of the deceased is so important that other extremely significant religious practices are held in abeyance until the deceased is properly cared for.
The major example given in rabbinic sources is when a Kohen (a Jew of Kohanic or priestly parentage) comes across a Met Mitzvah—one who has died and there are no others present to deal with the corpse. Under normal circumstances, a Kohen is never allowed to ritually defile himself by being in the presence of a human corpse. The noted exception is when dealing with his own seven nearest relatives, as are enumerated in Jewish sources.
The Halakhah—Jewish Law is very specific as to a husband’s or wife’s responsibilities towards their spouse in the event of their passing. These obligations include: what one may or may not do until the actual burial takes place, the preparation of the body for burial, the casket, and place of burial and mourning procedures. In actuality, the rules are far more involved than I am presenting here, due to the format of this response online.
As a retired career United States Navy Chaplain, I am quite familiar on a first hand basis with burial in a military cemetery versus a local Jewish cemetery. There are different approaches taken by Jewish Chaplains as is the case in many other areas of Judaism. If I had not served in the military chaplaincy and been called upon to deal directly with many unusual circumstances, I would most likely be adamantly opposed to anyone entertaining the possibility of a Jewish burial outside of a dedicated Jewish cemetery. Nevertheless, I approach these matters as well as others from the standpoint of traditional Halakhic observance.
You mentioned in your question that you wish to bury your husband’s ashes. At the outset, traditionally, this is problematic. Cremation is extremely frowned upon by tradition and traditionally observant Jews. It is a question of what is termed Nibul ha-Met—a desecration of the deceased. This is all the more so as we live in the aftermath of the Shoah—the Holocaust, involving the incineration of millions of Jews.
Of course, it is well known that many Jews have been and continue to be cremated, and there is no intention of desecration on the part of loved ones, nonetheless, as one of my teachers has pointed out, Jews have their own sense of aesthetics and their own rootedness in what is perceived as right or wrong.
This is not a matter of ‘following the wishes’ of the deceased, rather following the hallowed tradition of the Jewish people; thus believing that one would always desire to do the right thing, if only the right thing were presented to them earlier, in the proper spirit.
This means that each and every Jew truly desires in his or her heart of hearts to do the right thing.
Assuming that the cremation has already taken place and that the question is “what do we do with the ‘cremains’ (ashes)? “ Here the question is again the overarching one—K’vod ha-Met—Respect of the Dead. In this instance, is it respectful to be buried in either an exclusively Jewish local cemetery or in an inclusive national cemetery such as Arlington National Cemetery?
Some have raised serious questions, whether or not it is appropriate to perform a Jewish funeral—L’va-yah—in a mixed national cemetery. Direction in this matter has been given through the JWB - Jewish Chaplains Council, originally composed of Orthodox, Conservative and Reform rabbis. In this manner, permission was granted for burial in military cemeteries. The individual grave is designated and dedicated as its own Jewish plot.
This is by no means an easy situation; however, while the Jewish cemetery is always preferable, there is no question that burial in a national cemetery is often understood to be a high honor to the deceased, the family and the people.
Allow me to quote briefly from my previous response concerning the importance of burial in an exclusively Jewish cemetery.
“A Jewish cemetery is referred euphemistically to as a Beit Hayyim (house of life) and Beth Olam (house of eternity). This is dedicated, sacred ground. Only members of our B’rit (Covenant) are privileged to be admitted.
Reverence and holiness are attached to the concept of a Jewish cemetery. Those individuals chosen to prepare the Jewish deceased for burial are referred to in Aramaic as Hevra Kaddisha (holy burial society).
Everything surrounding the preparations for burial and the burial itself are handled with the utmost dignity and seriousness.
When it comes to matters pertaining to the deceased, Judaism excels and others often follow our lead trying to emulate our practices and traditions.
Yes, indeed, burial in a Jewish cemetery is exceedingly important and hallowed in our Jewish traditions.”
Matters of cost can be addressed to your local congregation and Jewish community. Often, there is a free loan burial fund that helps with such needs. Under no circumstance should your husband be buried in a mixed national military cemetery for lack of funds required for burial in a properly designated Jewish cemetery.
We have now dealt with the questions pertaining to the respect to your husband and his memory. What remains is the place of Sh’lom Bayit—Domestic Peace, that is, between you and your adult children. You must do everything in your power to maintain good relations with your children and ask for their help in making his funeral a source of goodness, comfort and positive feelings.
HaMakom yi-nachem etchem…— May the Almighty comfort you together with all who mourn in Zion and Jerusalem.