April 6 is National Write Your Own Epitaph Day. Really, there is such a day. At Mountain View Funeral Home, a Mesa funeral home, we think it is important to examine how epitaphs can leave a mark on a person’s legacy…and why it’s not a bad idea to consider writing your own.
What Is An Epitaph?
Before exploring this concept further, we want to explain exactly what an epitaph is. To start, we can look to those who come to our Mesa funeral home wanting to memorialize themselves or their loved ones. The first thing they want on a grave marking, of course, is information that includes their name or the name of the deceased, as well as the respective dates for birth and death. Obviously, the date of death would not be known if the person is pre-planning for their own grave marker. Often, however, those coming to our Mesa funeral home also want to include an inscription that captures the heart and soul of the deceased (or themselves) in a meaningful way. That is the point of the epitaph.
Throughout history, epitaphs have been an integral part of the death ritual. The earliest of graves were once marked with sticks and rocks. This, of course, was before the development of modern language. As time went on and cultures became more advanced, ancient societies such as the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans all came to use some form of memorial to honor their dead.
But the epitaph as we know it today, did not really come into being until more modern times. In an article posted on the online website Encyclopedia of Death and Dying, the French thanatologist Philippe Aries states that “the practice of marking the exact site of a grave by means of an inscription did not become widespread until the end of the eighteenth century.”
What Do You Say On An Epitaph?
Epitaphs can take many forms that reflect the nature of the deceased. They can be religious in nature, such as “The Lord Is My Shepherd I Shall Not Want.” They can be very simple, such as the familiar “Rest In Peace”. They can also offer a sense of humor, such as “I Told You I Was Sick” or “Gone But Not Forgiven“. Many well-know public figures and celebrities have epitaphs that reflect something from their life’s work or their career. For example, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.‘s epitaph reads, “Free at last. Free at last. Thank God Almighty I’m Free at Last.” The epitaph of Mel Blanc, the long-time voice of many Looney Toones cartoon characters, including Bugs Bunny, states, “That’s All Folks”, his signature sign-off catch phrase.
As for what you should say on your own epitaph? That is entirely up to you. It all depends on who you are and how you’ve lived your life. At our Mesa funeral home and cemetery, we understand that leaving your legacy on your grave marker can have a lasting affect for future generations. As we approach National Write Your own Epitaph Day, think about what you want people to remember about you. Writing your epitaph today not only impacts how people think of you after you’re gone, but it can also shape the way you conduct your life while you’re still in the midst of living.