Karen here! As we creatives know, inspiration does strike at all hours. That said, when I woke up at 2:47 this morning, I wasn’t really in search of anything more exciting than a bathroom break and a way back to sleep. I did have a sip of wine in my kitchen, and perhaps the additional choice to check my email might not have seemed wise (blue light and all blah blah blah). In the end, though, the link I discovered in one of said emails proved a most satisfying reason to stay awake for that particular half hour. If you’ll indulge me, I’ll share something lovely.
Epitaphs: An Art Form?
Those of you who listen to Farewelling: The Podcast know that we enjoy chatting about how we want to be remembered. We do occasionally critique inappropriate tombstone engravings (listen to genius comedian Sarah Cooper break one down here at about 14 minutes into our episode), and that sometimes I ask my guests what their epitaph would say if they could write it themselves.
To date, my favorite answer might be a two-word response from humorist Mo Rocca (he answers the question at about 9:50 of our episode if you need immediate gratification), but I always enjoy hearing how people attack this challenging eternal phrasing project. Have I thought of my own epitaph? Well, as a writer, I can tell you I’m working on it, just like I’m “working on my novel.” Ba-dum-dum.
Back to the inspiration. Last week our very own podcast editor Maria from editaud.io sent me a link to a recent episode of The Allusionist, a delightful podcast for language nerds and those who just find words interesting. The title of the episode: “Epitaph.” I found that link in my sleepy email review, and I clicked on it, as I was already a fan of the show.
What Makes a Good Epitaph, Anyway?
In this episode of The Allusionist, cult linguistics podcast goddess/globe-trotting host Helen Zaltzman accompanies another superb individual, David Nadelberg (of the Mortified podcast and related stage shows), on a trip to the cemetery where his beloved parents are buried. The two roam the acreage, searching (mostly unsuccessfully) for creative grave markers in a way that makes us chuckle while also while also prompting self-reflection on the order of, “Damn, what are they going to say about me?” Zaltzman and Nadelberg also font-shame at least one family, and as a result, I do need to say to my own family, I will choose the fonts!
How to write a good epitaph? It's not that easy. But you might begin by identifying a few unique qualities or details about your loved one (or yourself). What would tell a stranger walking by something heartfelt and interesting about this singular human being? The idea is to distill their essence into a few words or phrases. Poetry or a personal saying could be a great starting point.
Please Join the Conversation!
Have you ever encountered a well-written epitaph? Have you come up with something creative for yourself? If so, let us know, because we’re trying to make cemeteries--and even columbaria (look, I slipped in a fancy word!)-- more fascinating, or at least to encourage truly fitting tributes to the beautiful, quirky, individual humans who are resting therein.
You can email us at email@example.com or tag us on social media @myfarewelling or #myfarewelling. You should also think about writing your preferred epitaph in your Farewelling Worksheet so that your family will know how to spell it properly. Make sure to check your grammar, too! #notyposinparadise