Deciding what to put on a grave marker or headstone is a big decision. How can you encompass someone’s entire life in just a few words on a stone? The best epitaphs capture the essence of the departed and provide insight into who they were when they were alive.
Epitaphs on a grave marker or headstone can acknowledge the departed’s roles in life, give advice, quote the Bible or poetry, or simply provide information about the person’s name, date of birth, and date of death.
In the rest of this article, I’ll provide tips for what to consider when writing an epitaph, provide specific examples, and discuss some of the most famous epitaphs in history. Hopefully, you’ll have some ideas for what to put on a headstone by the time you’re done reading.
How to Choose the Epitaph for a Grave Marker or Headstone
The epitaph you put on a headstone should include information about who the person was, when they were born, and when they died. The epitaph can also include a short message summarizing the person’s life or values.
Headstones serve more of a purpose than simply marking the location of where someone is buried. They serve as artifacts that convey information about who the departed was and, in some cases, their personality and values.
Epitaphs are particularly interesting when they are humorous or unique, but lengthy epitaphs have decreased in popularity because headstone carving can be expensive, and some cemeteries have stricter regulations about what they’ll accept. Regardless, if you lose a loved one, you should take some time to consider what to write on their headstone to portray who they were accurately.
Here are some tips for choosing an epitaph for a departed loved one:
- The more concise, the better. Not only does a lengthy epitaph cost more, but it can also make a headstone look cluttered and messy. It’s better to keep it short and sweet to be more impactful.
- Consider what tone the departed would want. Was your loved one funny? Serious? Kind? Wise? Great epitaphs capture the essence of the departed, so spend some time reflecting on what they were like and what kind of message they’d want to leave behind.
- Ask yourself if the departed want to highlight their roles in life, give advice, reference the Bible, or quote poetry. Some epitaphs describe the departed in terms of the roles they had on earth (“scholar,” or “beloved mother,” for example), and others speak to the reader in some way to provide guidance or wise words.
Here are some simple examples of what you could write as an epitaph for a loved one:
- Here lies a beloved grandmother, mother, wife, and daughter.
- Beloved by family.
- “Whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:15)
- “I will fear no evil for thou art with me.” (Psalm 23)
- Forever in Our Hearts.
- Gone too soon.
- In cherished memory of…
These are fairly common examples, but they are still beautiful and meaningful and may be the perfect choice for your departed loved one.
Grave Markers: Five Examples
Here are five specific examples of what to write to help you decide what to put on a grave marker.
For a departed mother:
Mothers are usually proud of their children and may want their motherhood and wife roles highlighted on their epitaph. For example:
Devoted Wife and Beloved Mother of Five
January 1, 1941-January 31, 2022
For a departed father:
If the father had a sense of humor, you could use this as an opportunity to make the epitaph a little funny or creative. For example:
January 1, 1941-January 31, 2022
For a departed child:
Losing a child is a devastating experience. In this case, it may be best to keep it short and simple, especially since they didn’t have a long life to summarize. For example:
Our Precious Angel
January 1, 2004-January 31, 2005
For a departed soldier:
Soldiers would likely want to highlight their service on their headstone. For example:
US Marine Corps
A Life of Beauty and Service
For a married couple:
Sometimes, married couples choose to be buried together. Here’s an example of what this might look like:
John and Jane Doe
Many famous people and historical figures have unique epitaphs that can inspire your loved one’s headstone. Here are some famous examples:
- Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Free at Last. Free at Last. Thank God Almighty I’m Free At Last.”
- Karl Marx. “Workers of all lands unite. The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.”
- Frank Sinatra. “The best is yet to come.”
- Winston Churchill. “I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.”
- Joan Hackett. “Go away-I’m asleep.”
- Virginia Woolf. “Against you I will fling myself, unvanquished and unyielding, O Death!” -The Waves
- F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda Fitzgerald. “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” -The Great Gatsby
- Bette Davis. “She did it the hard way.”
- John Quincy Adams. “This is the last of Earth! I am content!”
- Charles Bukowski. “Don’t try.”
- Robert Frost. “I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.”
- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. “Steel true, blade straight, Arthur Conan Doyle: Knight, Patriot, Physician, & Man of Letters.”
- H.G. Wells. “I told you so, you damned fools.”
As shown above, epitaphs can be humorous, offer wisdom, or express hope. Ultimately, it should reflect the departed’s beliefs or personality concisely and thoughtfully.
Deciding what to put on an epitaph is difficult and sometimes overwhelming. It can be difficult to capture your love for a person in just a few words. Ultimately, you should try to write something that provides information about the departed and captures their spirit or tone. You can also write some words of wisdom the person may have said or believed in.