Thursday, November 1, 2012

Ensuring the "Dearly" in Your Own Dearly Departed-ness

Not the most inspiring of epitaphs, is it?* Yet that, or something worse, may be exactly the type of thing you get if you leave the writing of your gravestone epitaph up to whomever gets pressed into doing the job upon your untimely demise. (Because all demises are untimely, aren't they?)

Sometimes, your epitaph writer has your back. The mother of the outlaw Jesse James (1847 – 1882) did. She had this put on his tombstone:

In Loving Memory of my Beloved Son,
Murdered by a Traitor and a Coward Whose
Name is not Worthy to Appear Here

Ellen Shannon's epitaph writer did as well, putting this inscription on her tombstone:

Ellen Shannon
Who was fatally burned
March 21, 1870
by the explosion of a lamp
filled with "R.E. Danforth's
Non-Explosive Burning Fluid."

And sometimes, your epitaph writer cares very much for you, as Sylvia Plath Hughes' husband seems to have done for her. He had this inscribed on her tombstone:

Even amidst fierce flames
the golden lotus can be planted.

But it's hard to know for certain that the words chosen to grace your grave will be as flattering as you'd like. How, then, to ensure the "dearly" in "dearly departed" for the stone that marks your eternal resting place? 

Lance Hardie knows just what you should do: write your own epitaph, and plan it well before the Grim Reaper pays you a visit. In fact, he found a way to turn the planning process into an official holiday (Mr. Hardie, that is; not the Grim Reaper). He persuaded the folks at Chase's Calendar of Events to accept Plan Your Epitaph Daycelebrated annually on November 2nd, into their listing of holidays. Why November 2nd? Because it appropriately coincides with the more well-known, but equally important holiday, the Day of the Dead.

So: write your own epitaph. Pompously presumptuous? Or seriously strategic? Let's examine this further, shall we?

Here are a few things you may want to consider before you decide to just leave the whole thing up to chance:

Your epitaph may be written by folks who didn't like you much, as seems to have happened to this poor soul:

In memory of Beza Wood
Departed this life Nov. 2 1937 – Age 45 yrs.

Here lies one Wood
Enclosed in Wood;
One Wood
Within another.
The outer wood
Is very good:
We cannot praise
The other.

You may not have been the model spouse you believe yourself to be. Here's what poet H.J. Daniel wrote for his own wife's tombstone:

To follow you I'm not content.
How do I know which way you went?

Your epitaph writer may choose to simply record for eternity your cause of death, as was the case with the unfortunate Mr. Smith:

Harry Edsel Smith
Born 1903 – Died 1942
Looked up the elevator shaft
to see if the car
was on the way down.
It was.

Maybe mere damage control isn't enough motivation for you to get that epitaph written, pre-demise. In that case, perhaps these points will sway you:

Writing your own epitaph gives you the very satisfying opportunity to get in the final word, a last laugh, or an unrebuttable parting shot, as these folks did:

Winston Churchill:
I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.

Rodney Dangerfield:
There goes the neighborhood.

Eric W., Jr. Mar 13, 1922 – June 15, 1982
I made a lot of deals in my life
but I went in the hole on this one.

Or, writing your own epitaph can send just enough of a shiver down the grave visitor's spine to ensure that your eternal resting place remains undisturbed, as William Shakespeare did:

*translated into Modern English:

Good friend for Jesus' sake forbear,
To dig the dust enclosed here.
Blessed be the man that spares these stones,
And cursed be he that moves my bones.

After all that, if you're still intent on leaving your epitaph up to chance, perhaps you'll get lucky, having done so many things in life that brought so much joy to so many, that your epitaph writer has no trouble finding the perfect words to memorialize your life:

Source: Wikipedia File (Photo), Robert A. Estremo

*Ok, so I'm the one who composed that pitiful epitaph up there in that illustration at the top. To my family and friends: For the love of Pete, do not put that on my gravestone. I'm sure I can come up with something better. Eventually.

Sources: Funny Grave Epitaphs
Write Your Epitaph - More than just R.I.P. (Rest in Peace), by Chris Raymond