Imagine if you had to sum up your life in only a few words. What would you say? What area of your life would you focus on? Work? Family? Philosophy of life? Would you simply state husband, wife, mother or father? All of your life experiences expressed in a short sentence...


This seems to be an impossible task. Yet it is exactly what is done every day when people design their loved one’s marker or monument. Beyond the name and dates, there is a small amount of space to sum up their life. “Dearly loved” or “Always in our hearts” is often the sentiment chosen. But what about who they were? What they did? How can you convey for the generations to come what a special person is buried in that small piece of land?


While most turn to generic statements, some people have gotten quite creative. Mel Blanc’s inscription says, “That’s all folks.” W.C. Fields wanted, “I would rather be living in Philadelphia” on his stone, but did not get his wish. Thomas Jefferson summed up his many accomplishments by only mentioning a few of them, including “author of the Declaration of Independence, Statute of Virginia for religious freedom and father of the University of Virginia.” 


In the cemetery where I work, there is a monument inscribed with “I told you I was sick.” Beyond words, I have seen depictions of needle and thread, old cars, deer and other hobbies etched onto the stone. These graphics clearly let a passerby know what the person enjoyed doing. 


As technology develops, so too will the ways to memorialize a loved one. I envision the day when holographic images and full life biographies are accessible simply by scanning a code on the stone (some gravestones, in fact, already include QR codes). As for me, I want to embed a motion sensor chip on my stone. When people walk by my grave they'll hear Arnold Schwarzenegger saying, "I’ll be back."


By considering your life as a bumper sticker statement (or a tombstone inscription) you can begin to adjust your attitude, focus on your interests, devote more time to your family and friends, and start living a life worthy of your chosen phrase. So carpe diem – seize the day! It is the only one you will have like this and you are the only person who can live it in your own special way.


Your loved one wants you to be happy, so spend time doing what you love with people you love. There is nothing more important than that.


Nancy Weil is a leading authority on humor and grief. She serves as Director of Grief Support for eleven cemeteries and is a Certified Funeral Celebrant and Grief Management Specialist. Through her company, The Laugh Academy, she offers products to ease the stress and pain that grief can bring. Bandages for Your Heart on DVD or CD, Laugh for the Health of It on CD and her new book, If Stress Doesn’t Kill You, Your Family Might, can be ordered by clicking here.

Image: Flickr Creative Commons / CarbonNYC

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Comment by Nancy Weil on December 18, 2013 at 12:08pm

What a wonderful tribute to your aunt to personalize her bench in such a way. Thanks for sharing your story of this special lady.

Comment by Teresa Key on December 16, 2013 at 6:38pm
Reading this reminded me of my Aunt Jean. She loved to have everyone around. so when you would stop by, she never wanted you to leave. It didn't matter what you were drinking, coffee, beer, whatever, when you went to leave, she'd say "one more". Do when she passed, they had written on her bench,"just one more."

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