Writing Your Epitaph

Today I learned something that I found fascinating: apparently, every day the Sisters of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity decorate her grave with flower petals. The decorations are just lovely, and frequently take the form of a bit of Scripture or an inspirational thought.

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I found this absolutely beautiful, and spent the better part of an hour looking at pictures online…and then because I’ve got a bit of an obsession with cemetery statuary, I spent some highly enjoyable time looking at other graves from around the world, and the whole thing got me to thinking about how we remember our dead.

More precisely, it got me to thinking about how the choices we make every day directly impact the way we will ourselves be remembered. True, we don’t really have a lot of say over what our loved ones will carve on our gravestones when we die–or what they say at our funeral/memorial service/homegoing celebration, if you’ve opted not to be buried; I personally would like to be cremated, but wouldn’t mind if someone got, say, a park bench or something in my memory somewhere–and while I suppose you could technically pre-order your gravestone in advance, that’s a level of control freak-itude I don’t really know how to deal with.

So sooner or later, it’s going to fall to someone else to sum you up in a few words. Maybe a quote, or a short poem, or just a series of nouns (“Wife. Mother. Friend.”).

So here’s your ponderable for today, ‘Tracters: What sort of epitaph are you writing for yourself?

What sort of legacy are you leaving? What memories will the people around you have, when the time comes to decide how to describe you in as many characters as they can afford to have inscribed? What stories will they be able to tell during your eulogy?

Because to be very frank, your entire life–every choice you make, every day–will eventually be reduced to a few lines. Sure, maybe you’ll be one of the few folks who gets biographies written about them, but the odds aren’t really in your favor there. More likely, you’ll join the rest of us in the land of microbiographies, the people whose stories will be compressed to a quick glimpse and a few stories and in-jokes passed among loved ones.

So what will your epitaph be?

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Look, we’re not all going to be Mother Teresa. Odds are exceedingly good that nobody is going to be creating fresh flower displays on my grave every day for years and years after I die. But I can choose, each and every day, to live in a way that makes people at least consider that option. I can do everything I can to make the world a better place, knowing (in the selfish part of my brain) that while yes, I am doing these things because it’s the right/good/just/decent thing to do, it also wouldn’t break my heart if people said beautiful things about me when I die.

I can rock Dr Seuss’s advice (always a good idea), and make every day count.

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I can be mindful of what I say, and how I make people feel. I can look for the best in other people and extend that same grace to myself. I can believe in the potential for greatness in everyone I meet, including me.

I can be the sort of person who might just inspire folks to leave beautiful sayings about love on my grave in flower petals.

Because really, the other option holds no appeal for me whatsoever. Why settle for “Here lies Mama BW–She could’ve been far worse”? Or “In Memory of Mama BW, Who Didn’t Do Nearly As Much Harm As She Probably Could Have Done”?

Or heaven help me, why risk ending up like John Laird McCaffery, photographs of whose gravestone I will not include here because pottymouth, but whose epitaph clearly spells out how he was perceived?

I don’t want to be known as Mama BW–She Could Have Been So Much More If Only She’d Had More Free Cash. Nor do I want to be Mama BW–She Died With The Most Toys So She Wins.

I don’t want to be Mama BW–Boy Howdy Did She Do A Lot of Complaining.

I don’t want to be Mama BW–Really Kind of a Giant Pain in Everyone’s Tuckus.

I want there to be a park bench somewhere with my name on it, and maybe a lovely quote or line from a poem or song, and I want it to be the sort of place where there is always a flower or two, and I want to have earned that with my life.

I want to live every day with the knowledge that I am, even as we speak, writing my own epitaph…

I’m just not choosing the words.

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5 Comments

Filed under General Musings and Meanderings, Play Nicely

5 responses to “Writing Your Epitaph

  1. Shanda

    Beautiful and very thought-provoking. I’ve saved this quote for years and hope that maybe I can do it justice… “It is still so new & all we see is the empty space, but that is not how it is in the landscape of the heart. There, there is no empty space & she still laughs & grapples with ideas & plans & nods wisely with each of us in turn. We are proud to have known her. We are proud to have called her friend.” (Landscape of the Heart (Feminine) by StoryPeople by Brian Andreas – http://www.storypeople.com/ )

  2. goddesswild

    I remember a ritual I co-led at a retreat that asked participants to build their death altar and write both an epitaph and a memorial about their lives. We set them up in a long hallway, and then processed through this hall of 60 living ghosts. It was stunning and so profound….and really gave me pause.

  3. “I can look for the best in other people and extend that same grace to myself.” Beautifully said. Probably one of my biggest struggles is extending grace to myself.

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