So many of my articles come from questions asked at our continuing education sessions, from personal experiences, or from recent events that relate to the topic. Recently someone asked me, “What are some of the craziest epitaphs you’ve heard of?” Here are some of the best I’ve seen:
- John Yeast: “Here lies Johnny Yeast. Pardon me for not rising.”
- Spike Milligan: “Dúirt mé leat go raibh mé breoite.” (“I told you I was ill.”)
- Jesse James: “Murdered by a traitor and a coward whose name is not worthy to appear here.”
- Ludolph van Ceulen: “3.14159265358979323846264338327950”
- Jack Lemmon. “Jack Lemmon in…”
- Studs Terkel: “Curiosity did not kill this cat.”
- Bette Davis: “She did it the hard way.”
- From a Maryland cemetery: “Here lies an atheist. All dressed up and no place to go.”
- George Johnson: “Here lies George Johnson, hanged by mistake 1882. He was right, we was wrong, but we strung him up and now he’s gone.”
- Joan Hackett: “Go away — I’m asleep.”
- Emily Dickinson: “Called back.”
- Lester Moore: “Here lies Lester Moore. Four slugs from a 44, no Les, no more.”
- Hank Williams: “I’ll never get out of this world alive.”
- Dee Dee Ramone: “OK…I gotta go now.”
- Frank Sinatra: “The best is yet to come.”
- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Free at last. Free at last. Thank God Almighty I’m Free at Last.”
- Rodney Dangerfield: “There goes the neighborhood.”
- Mel Blanc: “That’s all folks!”
- John Belushi: “He could have given us a few more laughs, but nooooo.”
- Winston Churchill: “I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.”
Now keep in mind that these came from the internet so the validity is certainly questionable. But it got me thinking about what I would like to see on my own monument. I read an article published by the Acton Foundation for Entrepreneurial Excellence that discussed an exercise in thinking about your eulogy and epitaph. It suggested:
Close your eyes. Fast forward into the future (hopefully way into the future). It’s a church or cemetery. Your friends and family are gathered. There’s a coffin. You look closer. It’s your coffin. Now imagine: Who steps up to speak first? Your son or daughter? Your best friend? Your business partner? What does he or she say first? Then second? Then third? Who else is in the room? What are they thinking? What are they doing?
Now, let go, drift back to the present, open your eyes, and think about what you saw and heard. The acoustic systems involved with imaginative time travel aren’t great, so you couldn’t hear everything clearly. But that’s perfect: it means you get to fill in the gaps. You get to record what you wanted to hear. After you’ve completed the exercise, record your observations to the following questions.
- What do your self-written eulogy and epitaph say to you about your hopes and dreams? About your goals, your relationships with friends and family, and your character?
- What would your epitaph say if someone else wrote it today? Be as honest as possible. How does that epitaph differ from what you want it to say?
- What specific actions will you take next—or what will you stop doing now—to ensure your hopes and dreams at life’s end will come true?
Compelling, isn’t it? For me, I think about my children and what they will remember most about me. I hope they will always remember me to be a compassionate and caring person – willing to help others when needed; I hope they remember me as an honest person – someone who told the truth even when it may have hurt (although very gently); I hope they remember me as reasonable and fair person – able to see things from many perspectives and not quick to judge; and I hope they remember me as a calm and wise person – someone who doesn’t sweat the small stuff.
Now, how about you? What will your epitaph say?
Julie is the Director of Community Relations at Schoedinger Funeral Service.