Should I Buy a Double Headstone and Other Unfortunate Questions Widows Must Answer

Adjusting to life as a widow takes time. Three years in, and I’m still getting my bearings.

Unfortunately, there are some questions widows must answer that simply can’t wait. Things like what to do with your husband’s body and how best to celebrate his memory.

No one can answer these questions for you. But if you’re grappling with what to do, here’s some suggestions to help you find the right answer for your family.

Is it better to cremate or have a full burial?

The most common ways to dispose of a body (that sounds so callous, I know) are the following:

  • Full burial of the body in a cemetery
  • Cremation of the body and then burial of ashes in a cemetery
  • Cremation of the body, followed by a loved one either keeping the ashes or dispersing them elsewhere

Cremation is cheaper, but I definitely don’t think this is a decision that should be based solely on money. Ask yourself the following:

  • Does my religion or spiritual background provide any guidance in this matter?
  • Did my husband have any strong feelings on the subject?
  • Does the idea of visiting a cemetery feel comforting or awkward?
  • How will I feel if I have to move away from the cemetery where my husband is buried?

As a Catholic, it was important to me that my husband be buried in sacred ground. Plus, the idea of cremating his body struck me as being a bit sad. Beyond that, neither keeping ashes nor throwing them to the wind was especially appealing. So in my case, a full burial made the most sense and felt right. However, other families are different.

Don’t let yourself be bullied into a decision, but at the same time, take other relative’s wishes into consideration. Maybe you don’t have particularly strong feelings either way, but you have a child who very much wants to visit her Dad in the cemetery. In that case, the kind thing to do would be to have a burial of some sort so long as you can afford it.

How much should I spend on the funeral?

How much should you spend or how much will you spend?

If we’re talking about “should,” the answer is as much as you want, so long as you can afford it. I spent close to double the national average on my husband’s funeral and while some may tsk tsk and shake their finger for paying so much, I quite frankly don’t care. I only bury my husband once, and if I want to spend $4,000 on a casket made by monks, I’m darn well going to do that.

Now, that said, I was our family’s breadwinner. I also knew that our kids’ Social Security survivor benefits would easily replace my husband’s income. So I could afford to be extravagant. I didn’t need to horde the life insurance money.

If your financial situation is more precarious, please do not go overboard on your husband’s funeral. You don’t want to have a beautiful send-off for him, only to go home and realize you don’t have any money left to feed his children.

Ok, so how much will I spend on the funeral?

If you’re looking for the average costs, here’s what you can expect:

  • Funeral with viewing and full burial in vault: $8,508
  • Funeral with viewing followed by cremation: $6,078
  • Direct cremation without any viewing or service: $1,100

The first two numbers come from the National Funeral Directors Association and are based on 2014 figures. The association website also has a comprehensive breakdown of all the funeral components.

The cremation cost comes from the National Cremation Research Council. If you want to go this route, the Cremation Association of North America has a list of questions to ask before selecting a provider.

Do I have to follow my husband’s wishes?

This can be a tricky one. The key questions to ask yourself here are how important were these wishes to your husband and why don’t you want to follow them?

My gut feeling is the funeral is for the living so your wishes – and those of your family – should be paramount. If your husband wants to have a huge party to celebrate his life and you don’t think you can handle that, I don’t think you should feel obligated to do so. Likewise, if your husband didn’t want to have any sort of service, but you do, I wouldn’t feel bad about holding one.

However, if your husband had a good reason for his request, then I think you should do everything in your power to make it happen. An example might be if his religion called for a specific type of burial or service.

As for all the little details, unless you have a strong reason to oppose to your husband’s wishes, I would try to follow through with his plans. Maybe you don’t love his taste in music or the clothes he picked out, but his choices are a reflection of him and he’s the one you’re remembering at the funeral, right?

Should I buy a double headstone?

Of all the issues surrounding my husband’s burial, this was the one that left me the most conflicted. I don’t expect to ever get married again so it seems logical that I would get a double headstone. However, the idea of looking at my name in the cemetery for the next 30-40 years seems a bit unbearable.

My kids ultimately decided the issue for me. When I mentioned the idea of a double headstone, they strongly responded by saying they did not want to see my name on a grave. So that was the end of that.

I ended up buying three plots and put my husband in the first one. Then, I can be in the middle, and there will be room for one of the kids if needed too. (You could also use the third plot for a second spouse if you get remarried). After I die, the kids can then replace their Dad’s single headstone with a double one for us both.

One of the reasons I waffled so long about the double headstone was that I didn’t want someone walking through the cemetery to think my husband had been all alone in the world. I wanted people to know that he was important – that he had a wife and kids who cared and missed him. To solve that problem, I had our names engraved on the back of his stone.

Back of my husband's headstone
Back of my husband’s headstone

Should I keep my husband’s ring?

For this answer, I’ll tell you what the funeral director told me:

Unless it has particular sentimental value or an inscription, I would leave it with him. It was your gift to him, and he should keep it.

That might not work for everyone, but it did for me. My husband still wears his ring, and I still wear mine.

Did I miss anything? From your experience, what are some of the other tough questions widows must answer?

(photo credit)




    1. A hard topic, but your article answers important questions many of us have never thought about.

      Karin Waterbury

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