Ask Jennings.ie: What to Write on a Headstone
The headstone that you place at your loved one’s grave reflects these memories and emotions that you shared with them. The inscription on the headstone is a symbol of the life that they lived and your memory of them.
If a headstone is already in place on a family grave, the name of the recently deceased loved one may be added, along with the birth and death dates.
If there is room on the stone for additional wording, or if the family wants to add anything, they can discuss it with the person responsible for engraving the stone.
If a new headstone is being prepared for a grave, the family put a lot of thought into the wording, as they know it will be there for a long time and seen by generations to come.
In addition to the loved one’s name and birth and death dates, any other wording needs to reflect who they were. Some families opt for a scripture verse that meant a lot to the person who died, or a quote. You can even use something that just shares who the person was and what they enjoyed.
In many parts of Europe adding a photograph of the deceased in a frame on the headstone is very common, and is becoming popular in Ireland too.
Name and Date
The basic things that go on anyone’s headstone are their full name and the dates that mark their birth and death. You can use the real, formal name and/or their nickname.
Many people like to have simple images engraved on their loved one’s headstones, such as an angel, cherub, cross or star.
You can further personalize the headstone by using an image that depicts something special to the person being honoured, such as music notes, ballet shoes or animals. The size and detail of the image will often depend on the size and material of the headstone.
You may choose to personalize a headstone with a short verse or phrase. Many engravers charge by the letter or word, and the length of the verse may depend on how large the headstone is.
Bible verses are a popular choice. You might consider a selection from the deceased’s favourite poem or song, or a quote from a person, book or film. When choosing a verse for a headstone, consider what was important to the deceased.
While picking an inscription for a headstone it may help if you took into consideration the likes, passions, interests, and convictions of the person who has passed on.
Sometimes, the simplest of epitaphs have the most impact. Using something simple, short and elegant as the inscription for the headstone can best express the emotions for the person you have lost.
Lying in peace for an eternity
We will cherish and remember you always
Poetry has a soul of its own, and when you are at a loss for words that can describe your emotions, a few lines from a poem that truly touches you can be the answer you are looking for.
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die. – Death, Be Not Proud by John Donne
Farewell to thee! but not farewell
To all my fondest thoughts of thee:
Within my heart they still shall dwell;
And they shall cheer and comfort me. – Farewell by Anne Brontë
In Their Own Words
If your loved one chose to write their epitaph while alive, then use this as an inscription for the headstone.
If this wish was not made clear, you may go through the letters and notes that they have left behind to see if you find something that expresses your loved one’s feelings.
If I should go tomorrow
It would never be goodbye,
For I have left my heart with you,
So don’t you ever cry. – Unknown
The best is yet to come. – Frank Sinatra’s grave marker
In the Words of Others
When you are grieving the death of someone close to you, it can be quite difficult to come up with words that tell the world how much you will miss them and how much they mattered to you.
Dust thou art, to dust returnest, was not spoken of the soul. – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Yet in this heart’s most sacred place, thou, alone, shall dwell forever. – Thomas Moore
In God’s Name
Traditionally, headstone verses are religious in tone. If the person who has passed on was devout, then verses from the Bible may be the perfect inscription on their headstone. These verses can also be a great source of comfort.
I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in me, though he were dead yet shall he live. – John 11:25
They can no longer die; for they are like the angels. – Luke 20:36
Is Humour Appropriate?
If your loved one was known for his ability to look at the funnier side of things, then it may be a good idea for his headstone to reflect this quality.
Of course, with a funny inscription it is important that you tread lightly and do not hurt any sentiments.
Dúirt mé leat go raibh mé breoite. (I told you I was sick) – Headstone of Spike Milligan, English comedian
Inscriptions for headstones should always reflect the sentiments, feelings and affection for the deceased, as it is the family’s way of honouring their lost loved one.