Thursday, December 1, 2011

Having the Last Say – Epitaphs

Godspeed or Good Luck

Name, Date, God is Love
An epitaph is a short text, inscribed on a tombstone that honors a deceased person, provides information about them, or acts as a message to the living.  How someone is remembered can tell us a lot about who they were, their status in their family and community, and about the period of time in which they lived.

Name, Relationships, Occupation
An epitaph may be a simple as someone’s name and his or her birth and death years, or the statement of a family relationship such as father or aunt.  But epitaphs can also be very detailed, or rhyming, a poem, or simply a remembrance.  Epitaphs are as distinctive and varied as the people they are a tribute to.

Greek urn
Spanish Epitaph
Epitaphs have been used for centuries beginning with symbols or signs carved into a rock and placed on the deceased’s grave. The Egyptians, Romans and Greeks all used symbols or shapes to signify who was buried in a plot.  The Greeks were said to have eight different grave forms; rectangular slabs, round columns, vases, stone blocks, receptacles for cremated remains, stone coffins, shrines, and carved stones.

Diodorus' stone
A Roman epitaph of ancient gladiator Disorders, transcribed recently from the 2nd or 3rd century A.D. reads, “Here I lie victorious, Diodorus the wretched. After breaking my opponent Demetrius, I did not kill him immediately. But murderous Fate and the cunning treachery of the summa rudis killed me...”
Painting by Jean-Leon Gerome Pollice Verso
Epitaph on Diodours' tombstone

The summa rudis, or chief stick, refers to the referee of the game.  Apparently the ref made a bad call, which cost Diodorus his life, and his family did not want this mistake to be forgotten, so it was depicted and inscribed on his tombstone.

Epitaph on White Bronze marker
from the 1800's
The use of epitaphs became widespread near the end of the 1700’s in Europe and 1800's in America. During the nineteenth century they became longer and more detailed, but by the turn of this century, epitaphs began to become more concise again.

Hand-written epitaph

Hand-painted epitaph
During the 1870’s and again in the early 1900’s when times were tough and money was scarce, many tombstones were made from concrete slabs.  Carved by the family, inscribed with a stick in wet cement or painted with a brush, the epitaph was still heartfelt.

An epitaph can be descriptive, religious, thought provoking, or humorous.  It all depends on the personality buried there.  Many times the deceased selected their own epitaph.  If not, then a loved one or family member might do so.  An epitaph may be an expression of grief or love.  It might indicate immigration or illness.  It can be a testament to a life well lived or a love to last forever.  It is a summation of someone’s personal story.

Epitaphs can be placed in many groups, here are just a few I've found:

Tried & True Epitaphs
At Rest
Dear Wife
Gone But Not Forgotten

Grief & Sorrow
Wife, Mother, Friend
All lost in thee.
Dear Morgan thou hast left me
In this world to weep for thee
But with God's will and his good pleasure
I soon will be at rest with thee.

Blessed are the pure in heart
For they shall see God
Asleep in Jesus

Strength through faith

Unto him that loved us and washed
us from our sins in his own blood - -
to him be the glory and dominion for ever
and ever. Amen. Rev. 1: 5-6

But, oh for the touch of a
vanished hand and the
sound of a voice that is still
Husband, may we pass together
through the gate ajar.

Thou art gone but remembered
Wait for me, the best is yet to be

An inspiration to all
who knew him
He caught joy on the wing
and enriched our lives

Remember me with laughter

Two epitaphs on this couples stone.
His:  Bonds exist that will never be broke.
He that was dead, lives.
Hers:  One life has finished
and time has come for another to begin
He was faithful to every duty
She died as she lived,
a noble woman.

Purity and innocence
require no epitaph
or letter of credit
in the land of spirits
Her beautiful face was heaven's mirror.
Her heart a sanctuary of prayer and love;
With duty fulfilled and faith unfaltering,
The noble spirit entered the court above. 

Our Crown Jewel 

As I sleep this lonely night,
I think of the bird lost in flight...
For Whom the Bell Tolls

Sheltered and safe
from sorrow
No man is an island entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main


The kiss of the sun for pardon,
The song of the birds for mirth,
One is nearer God's heart in a garden
Than anywhere else on earth.

Dear Husband Can I e're forget,
Or shall the grave eternally sever?
No, in my memory you still live yet.
And in my heart you will live forever.
Why weep ye then for him, who, having won
The bound of man's appointed years, at last,
Life's blessings all enjoyed, Life's labors done
Serenely to  his final resting place has passed.

Life is real!  Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

These are just some examples of the many different types of epitaphs.  So what would you choose for yours?

~ Joy


  1. Great post. I love epitaphs, and this is an epitaph bonanza!

  2. Thanks Amy! Glad you enjoyed it! I actually give a presentation on epitaphs for genealogical societies and it's always fun.