It may not be something you spend much time pondering, but when your loved ones are trying to decide what epitaph should be inscribed on your grave marker, what would you suggest?
Over the years I’ve had the privilege of working with families as they plan for funerals and burials. The whole process, no matter how honest and fair the funeral director, always leaves me with the same sort of feeling that I have after buying a car - maybe pleased, but always wondering just how much better I should have done in my dealings.
Part of the grave marker selection process is the opportunity to cast in bronze or carve in granite an appropriate epitaph, which the dictionary defines as: “an inscription in memory of the dead person.” Cemetery sales people make suggestions, which may work well for some families, but not for ours.
When my Dad was dying, he actually picked out his own epitaph! On his grave marker it says, “Napping till the resurrection.” That was what he wanted, and we made sure it was what he received. He was confident in his belief that death was like a sleep, and he was confident that, because of Jesus, he will one day rise on the resurrection day. Dad enjoyed a good nap, and the concept of thinking of death as napping until the resurrection brought him comfort as he faced death.
I don’t ever remember having any conversations with my father-in-law about grave stone epitaphs. So when my mother-in-law and I met with the cemetery representative, we weren’t really prepared when we were asked what the epitaph should say. All the “helpful” suggestions from the cemetery personnel weren’t that helpful.
Then, in a moment of genius, my mother-in-law suggested just three words. When I heard her, I laughed and agreed it was the perfect answer. He was a great man, a good father, and a loving husband, but giving him all the honors due him doesn’t honor him as well as the epitaph. Any other accolade would only champion a single side or individual trait that marked his life. How could we capture, in just three of four words, his lifelong journey? He had jumped into some youthful rebellion, spent time in the armed services, worked for some good and bad bosses, finally developed his own business, and did well for himself. Life transitioned him from stubborn to determined, from competitive to cooperative, from controlling to relaxed, and from demanding to accepting.
So on his marker you’ll find this three-word epitaph: “Improved with age.” What a compliment. While his health deteriorated, and his freedoms became restricted, and his ability to control disappeared, it is such a compliment to note how he faced all that life brought his way, and he “Improved with age.”
So what about you? Improving with age? And at the risk of being accused of being morbid—What would you choose as your epitaph?