An epitaph is a (usually) short text remembering a deceased person. While it may be published or read out loud – for instance at a memorial service – we usually think of it in terms of an inscription on headstones for graves or other cemetery monuments. While we will include some famous and memorable epitaph examples here, our main aim will be to provide you with some inspiration for writing an epitaph for a friend or loved one. Many people choose to write their own while they are still living – and again several of these epitaph examples are included on this page.
What should an epitaph include?
Include the name of the deceased and the date / year of their birth and death. After this it is very much up to yourself as what you feel to be appropriate. Many epitaph examples contain a short biography of their life and achievements. Many others list their family members using phrases such as:-
beloved parent to ……… and ……….., and grandparent to ………, ………. and …………
It is also usual to include a short piece of text – something with meaning. This may indicate the way you felt or feel about that person:-
will always be remembered.
gone but not forgotten.
always in our hearts.
we will be reunited in heaven.
Or a reference to the type of person they were:-
a loyal and loving son.
a friend to all who knew her.
he lived life to the full.
always cheerful and brave to the end.
Or a biblical quotation:-
Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His faithful ones. (Psalm 116:15).
Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits. (Proverbs 18:21).
I will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow. (Jeremiah 31:13).
some epitaph examples from famous graves:-
Karen Carpenter – “a star on Earth – a star in Heaven”.
Jack London – “The Stone the Builders Rejected” (Psalm 118:22)
Sammy Davis Jnr. – “the Entertainer – he did it all”.
Mahatma Gandhi – “Hey Ram” (Oh Lord).
Martin Luther King Jnr. – “Free at last - free at last – thank God Almighty I’m free at last.”
Jim Morrison – “Truth to your own spirit”.
What should be the tone of an epitaph?
In previous centuries the epitaph added to the tone of the monument as a whole. Lengthy – even pompous – inscriptions were little more than boasts of the person’s – and family’s – wealth and power. Prior to that it was customary for a grave to be designed as a reminder to the living as to our own mortality. Skulls and crossed bones were used in conjunction with epitaphs containing wording such as ‘beware’ and ‘mortals’.
Today the practise is more about being short but meaningful – a phrase or saying which represents who they were and how they lived their life.
Jack Lemmon – “In”.
Mel Blanc – “That’s all folks!”
HG Wells – “I told you so, you damned fools.”
George Carlin – “Jeez - he was just here a minute ago.”
Spike Milligan – “I told you I was sick.”
Peter Ustinov – “Do not walk on the grass”.
Jackie Gleason – “And away we go!”
Brian Cawley – “Hurray - no more Council Tax”.
Rodney Dangerfield – “There goes the neighborhood.”
However – an important point to note here is that without exception, all these epitaphs were written by the deceased prior to their deaths.
Are there are ‘rules’?
Yes there are – at least each cemetery or burial ground will have their own individual cemetery regulations. And the wording on the tombstone itself will need to be approved by the cemetery authorities. They may well insist on a specific format and will definitely have applicable rules regarding the text. Content which could be viewed as abusive, blasphemous or in any way controversial will definitely cause problems. This may include humorous text depending upon the context. There have been several test cases in which families have challenged the authorities as to their legal right to create an epitaph to the exact format they choose. To date the cemetery authorities have always won.
So do ensure that you have received approval prior to inscribing the headstone. Check our page on headstone designs for further advice.
Of course you may be looking for an epitaph for a pet memorial stone or other forms of pet grave markers in your own garden. n which case you obviously have free reign to write how and what you choose.
More famous epitaph examples.
Frank Sinatra – “The best is yet to come.”
Dean Martin – “Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime”.
Jayne Mansfield – “We live to love you more each day”.
Rita Hayworth – “Beloved mother – to yesterday’s companionship and tomorrow’s reunion”.
Emily Dickinson – “Called Back”.
Andrew Carnegie – “Here lies a man who knew how to enlist the service of better men than himself.”
We hope you have found these epitaph examples useful. It may be that you can use them exactly as seen. But it is more likely that you will see one that immediately reminds you of your loved one which you can borrow, change, tweak and use as a permanent and lasting reminder.