Tricky Tombstone Text

When it comes to tombstone text there are two things the surviving spouse needs to write: the epitaph (a phrase or statement written in memory of the deceased) and the term of endearment (known in the industry as the TOE, to describe the person with love and affection).

The term of endearment may seem rather straightforward, but while selecting and designing the tombstone, I was instructed by the saleswoman about the language of the dead.  Words have nuances on a headstone. ‘Beloved’ implies the person was very loved. ‘Devoted’? Not so much.

Then there’s the epitaph.  It’s often difficult to find the right words, brevity being a key factor.  My late husband was a film buff, so I turned to one of his favorite movies, The Wizard of Oz , for inspiration: “Over the Rainbow and Into God’s Hands.” Why not “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”? Because – as I was informed by the supervisor of stonework at the Catholic cemetery, a mother superior-type:  “That’s not a line from the Bible.” I could hear her not smiling over the phone as I negotiated the phrase.

Since there’s only one epitaph per headstone, the words chosen for the first occupant will have to satisfy all future tenants. For those who may feel cheated out of their last words, what would your epitaph say?

A few final words from some famous headstones:

  • Comedian Rodney Dangerfield:  There goes the neighborhood
  • Mel Blanc, the voice of Looney Tunes cartoon characters:  That’s all, folks.
  • Poet, Emily Dickinson:  Called back
  • Gangster, Al Capone:  My Jesus mercy
  • Chef, Julia Child:  Bon Appetit
  • Jackie Gleason:  And away we go
  • Talk show host, Merv Griffin:  I will not be right back after this message
  • Frank Sinatra:  The best is yet to come


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