How to Write an Epitaph

by Culture & Society Editor
The tone of a poem communicates the emotion the writer intended to convey.

The tone of a poem communicates the emotion the writer intended to convey.

Typically an epitaph appears on a tombstone or commemorative plaque. A good epitaph makes you think. It reflects the greatest achievements of the deceased, highlighting what they gave to the world. An artist's epitaph may refer to his work. Someone who bravely weathered a terminal disease should be commemorated for her courage. Follow these steps to write an effective epitaph.

Read samples of epitaphs to get an idea of what's appropriate. The Kohima Memorial, erected to commemorate the 2nd Infantry Division of Allied troops during World War II, is a well-known example (see link in Resources).

Meditate on the person for whom you're writing the epitaph. Think too of life and death. It's a serious piece of writing that gets at the heart of being human. Check out what people had to say about life and death at the Epitaph Project.

Keep a journal about the person. You're commemorating an entire life in just a few lines so you need to organize your thoughts. This will help you focus your epitaph on what's important.

Journal about your memories of the person. Think of the wisdom they passed on to you, how they inspired you and others and what they accomplished in their life.

Think about the roles this person filled throughout their life. Write about what sort of parent they were, how their hobbies and interests were part of their identity and how they gave of themselves.

Look through the Bible, books of verse, literature and any other sources that seem relevant to you for quotations. Note them in your journal for inspiration.

Write your epitaph in a calm state of mind. Play favorite music, burn healing oil or incense or sit outside in your garden, a forest or by the beach. Write down everything you have to say about the person you want to commemorate.

Set what you've written aside for a few days. Review each line critically and cross out the ones that don't do your loved one justice, are too narrow in focus or concentrate on unimportant things. Choose the best 2 to 6 lines for your epitaph.

Tips

  • The best epitaphs are written especially for the deceased rather than a quote.
  • Consider adding an epitaph to the blank tombstone of someone you remember fondly.

Photo Credits

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