An epitaph is a short inscription engraved on the headstone, grave marker, monument or memorial plaque on the tomb or grave of a deceased person. An epitaph is written in honor or memory of the deceased. An epitaph may also be a short poem or verse written in memory of the deceased.
How to Write an Epitaph
1. The first rule of writing an epitaph is to keep in mind what the deceased person would have wanted. What type of person was he or she? How would your loved one have felt about having an epitaph displayed on his or her final resting place for eternity? Did your loved one ever discuss his last wishes or indicate how he would like to be remembered?If the deceased was a person who appreciated humorous quotes, religious verses or expressive words, then an epitaph is a great way to honor your loved one or provide comfort to his or her survivors. However, sometimes the best decision is to avoid using an epitaph on the headstone or grave marker of the deceased. If you have strong doubts about how your loved one would feel about the epitaph you plan to use, or if you are unable to make such an important decision in a time of grief, it is best to omit the epitaph.2. Another important rule for writing an epitaph is to keep it brief. An epitaph is meant to be timeless. An epitaph that is too long is likely to seem overdone. Also, the amount of space available on a tombstone, monument or memorial plaque is extremely limited. In most cases, there is only space for two to eight words for the epitaph. When engraving is done on granite or marble, the letters must be of a certain minimum size, which means there is little flexibility in the amount of words you can include.3. Consider the cost. The amount of engraving or length of inscription can add to the cost of a monument or grave marker. If the budget for your loved oneís final arrangements is limited, get information about how much it will cost to add an epitaph before making a final decision. See funeral and burial expenses.4. Read other epitaphs to become familiar with what is appropriate and what works. Some of the earliest epitaphs were so clever or thought-provoking they have been quoted by others for centuries. Other epitaphs are very simple, yet convey meaningful words of comfort to the family of the deceased. To review some examples, see List of Epitaphs. Ask the mortuary that handles your loved oneís funeral services for suggestions regarding epitaphs. For examples of some of the most memorable epitaphs, see Celebrity Epitaphs.
5. Remember the style of the deceased when writing an epitaph. If your loved one had a casual or relaxed style, it may seem out of character to use an epitaph that is overly serious or pretentious. If the deceased had a more formal or reserved style, you may want to write an epitaph that is solemn or sophisticated.6. If you are having difficulty deciding on a theme for the epitaph, think about your loved oneís accomplishments or how he or she will be remembered by others. Think about issues your loved one cared about or activities he or she enjoyed. If the deceased was a person often quoted by others, consider using something he or she said. In other cases, it may be best to write an epitaph with words of comfort and affection or spiritual meaning.7. After you have put together some ideas about what you plan to use as an epitaph, get a few other opinions. Discuss the epitaph with a close relative or friend. It is also a good idea to discuss the epitaph with the person handling the funeral services or a representative of the monument company before finalizing your decision.
Remember, the most important thing about writing an epitaph is to be thoughtful of the deceased. Avoid getting caught up in your own personal style or ideas and remain focused on honoring your loved one.
Tips for Choosing an Epitaph
It is important to remember that epitaphs vary widely, depending on the situation and the person being memorialized. For a man with a good sense of humor who lived a very long, full life, you may choose an epitaph with a comical element, whereas the appropriate epitaph for the gravestone of a small child may express words of love, emotion or spiritual comfort. The epitaph you choose should be appropriate in the context of the deceased personís life or your relationship. If the decedent made an estate plan, look for a
document to see if an epitaph was mentioned.
If the deceased suffered a painful illness, one option is to select an epitaph that declares a release from suffering or faith in a new beginning. If your loved one was taken at a young age, you may choose an epitaph that expresses your sadness or that celebrates the memories made during your time together.
Sometimes the best epitaph is one that tells the world something about your loved one. For example, if family is what mattered most to the deceased, the most fitting epitaph may be one that describes her role in the family. If your loved one was known for her achievements, consider using an epitaph that highlights those achievements, whether it be in professional life, sports, hobbies, art, politics, etc. If the deceased served his country, use an epitaph that highlights his military service. If your loved one valued a social or political cause, he may have preferred an epitaph that expresses a viewpoint about an important cause. If the person you are memorializing wished to be remembered in a particular way, the right epitaph can honor those wishes.
A great epitaph can also be used to capture something the deceased loved. For example, if your loved one was an avid lover of music, sports, film, politics, literature, poetry, or comedy, you might use a favorite phrase, line or lyric as an epitaph. It can be helpful to look through items collected by the deceased to learn about his or her passions. This way you can choose an epitaph the deceased would have enjoyed.
Verses from religious scriptures and hymns are often used as epitaphs. You can choose a favorite verse of the deceased or one that will provide comfort to those who will be visiting your loved oneís final resting place. Another good choice for an epitaph is a phrase that expresses your fondness or affection for the person, such as our beloved.
Selecting an epitaph to be engraved on a headstone or monument can be overwhelming. While the list of choices may be endless, sometimes nothing sounds quite right. It is very difficult to make a personís final arrangements when you are grieving. Try reviewing epitaphs in short increments and then take breaks to reflect on the choices. Give yourself as much time as possible to make a decision. If the burden of making final arrangements is too much to handle, ask a friend, someone from your place of worship, a trusted advisor, or the funeral director for help.
Writing Your Own Epitaph
Making your own final arrangements, including writing your own epitaph, is a much better way to do things than leaving the burden to your spouse, children, and other survivors. Writing your own epitaph can be a way to express your creativity or a way to maintain control over final disposition of remains.
If you write your own epitaph, there are several steps you should take to ensure others are aware of your preferences after your passing. If you plan to prepay for your funeral and burial, it is best to leave instructions regarding your memorial plaque or marker as well. You can also write instructions regarding your epitaph using one of the Last Wishes Planners featured on our site.