An epitaph is a brief phrase or saying honoring a deceased person, often inscribed or engraved on their monument, headstone, memorial plaque, gravestone, tombstone or cemetery marker.
If you have recently lost a loved one and don’t know where to begin with the epitaph, you are not alone. Most families find that summarizing a life in just a few words can be exceptionally difficult. Thankfully, writing the epitaph is one of the last decisions to be made before finalizing the memorial for your loved one, and you can take your time.
Hudson Valley Memorial Group has generations of experience helping families create fitting epitaphs. We know the words chosen to honor the life of your loved one are very important. Please allow us to help you make the process as simple as possible.
Effective epitaphs can be very different from one another, just like people. Some are witty and lighthearted, winking at life’s quirks and responding with joy. Others are profoundly inspirational, deep and reflective. Some epitaphs convey information about the person’s achievements while others include traditional religious messages.
One way to think about an epitaph is whether the message should be about the deceased person specifically or if it will be designed to convey another, broader message. For example, a personal epitaph for a woman might read, “Beloved wife, mother and sister.” A message-based epitaph is a phrase such as “Always in our hearts.”
What is key to remember is that epitaphs are designed to reflect the true spirit of the loved one. This results in a unique, personal marker.
As a creative exercise, make a list of words and phrases that describe your loved one’s personality. What would your loved one want others to see? Would they want the epitaph to make people laugh or to inspire others? Sometimes people choose a quotation from one of their heroes that also reflects their own character. If your loved one was religious, a verse or a psalm is a good choice.
Alternatively, many epitaphs share a snippet of the person’s legacy such as, “Inspired poet and faithful friend,” or “He gave his life for his country.” These brief testaments highlight some of the most important aspects of a person’s life and can bring comfort to those who visit the memorial for reflection.
The length of an epitaph will vary, but in most cases, it should be as succinct as possible. The amount of space you have available will depend upon the size of the memorial’s flat surface area.
Another thing to consider is the permanence of the message. Think of the future and the fact that the stone will likely last in perpetuity — you will want to create a message that stands the test of time. Avoid phrasing that caters to a fad or fashion that may not last or be relevant many years from now.
The first use of epitaphs can be traced to ancient civilizations in Egypt, Greece and Rome. By the 1800s, their use became common across the world.
For a mother, daughter or sister:
- Her friendship was an inspiration, her love a blessing.
- All that I am or ever hope to be I owe to my angel mother.
- She would rather give than receive.
- She will always be with us . . . in our hearts, in our memories, in our lives.
- A beautiful life came to an end. She died as she lived — everyone’s friend.
- She walked in beauty.
For a father, son or brother:
- A man greatly loved, and greatly missed.
- Devoted father, husband, brother, son, and friend.
- His absence is a silent grief, his life a beautiful memory.
- In loving memory of [Name]
- God took him home, it was His will. But in our hearts, he lives on still.
A Note on Pre-Planning
Creating an epitaph for a loved one highlights an important point.
Pre-planning your own memorial can act as a precious gift for those left behind. When you choose the size, design and color of your marker and decide on your epitaph, it greatly assists the people most important to you.
This relieves any burden they may feel as they struggle with the weight of your loss and it also ensures that your life’s message will appear just as you wish.
Please visit our pre-planning page to learn more.
Thank you so much for creating a beautiful monument for my daughter and husband.
It gave my family and I great comfort to view this memorial and you were right, it was OK for us to put in the wording that meant a great deal to us.
I want to thank you again for all your ideas and especially for the design and thoughtfulness that you extended to my family.