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Headstone Phrases are much more than just a Record of Names
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Walking through a cemetery you might take the time to read the headstone phrases. As you go from one to the next it is evident that there are three parts to any headstone or grave marker. First, the name of the departed is displayed in prominent letters. If the person buried there was a member of a family who was also buried within the same plot, the family name may be given above. Secondly, the dates of birth and passing are given. Lastly and more often than not, an epitaph is added to the grave marker. This article will discuss some of the many things to keep in mind about this final, but probably most important, part of headstone.
An epitaph or headstone phrase is a brief saying or quote inscribed on a grave marker to pay respect to the deceased. Often a headstone phrase makes reference to how people felt about the deceased. Other times it is a reflection of a person’s life. And yet other times it refers to the way in which a person has passed. Headstone phrases are as brief as they are meaningful, and tend to honor the life and death of the deceased.
When a person hears the term headstone phrase, he or she is sure to think about the most common of all epitaphs R.I.P. This age-old abbreviation is from the Latin root “Requiescat in pace”, or “Rest in Peace.” So common is this term that it is used in every imaginable area of life, even humor. It is so often used that ‘R.I.P.’ no longer embodies the somber acceptance of death and all its grim cohorts. More often than not the term is used to be taken as light and slightly comical. In short, you will not often see the term R.I.P. on a headstone that has been placed in the last several decades.
In today’s society the norm is to honor one’s loved ones by inscribing a headstone phrase on their marker that will completely embody that person’s entire being. Though it is thought that the epitaph somehow speaks for the dead, this is rarely the case. A headstone phrase is chosen by those that best knew the deceased, and though it may take the guise of words that personify that person, it tends to be more of a wish from the grieving to the past.
For example, here are some headstone phrases that have been found on grave markers across the world: “My body lies peacefully, my soul lives on”, “The Lord has taken me to be with Him”, “Resting Peacefully Forever”, “Your life on Earth will always be remembered”, “Our love for you lives on….”,”Rest now my love….”, “Forever in our hearts, you live on”, “Praying you are peaceful and in the arms of the Lord”, “Rest now, your soul is free”, “Live forever in God’s love”, “Peace be with you as you walk with God” Though no less a mark of respect, these epitaphs suggest that the last words extended to those we love are very much our desires for the ones that have passed before us. Our wishes, our hopes, our most earnest requests are shared at this time in hope that these words will somehow reach the ones we have lost. This hope continues through time as do the words we etch into the stone. So it is no wonder that so much thought is invested into exactly what headstone phrase is used. Very often people will find solace by writing an epitaph of their own rather than choosing one that already exists. After all, who knows your loved one better? However it is not always easy to come up with a suitable and brief literary piece that summarizes and commemorates the ones we have lost. Often it is a good idea to consult with close family members so that the whole weight of the task is not entirely on your shoulders. If you choose to attempt this very important task, it's a good idea to write down as many ideas as you can think of drawing on memories and accomplishments of the deceased. Having many options to choose from will make the final decision not only less difficult but will allow you to feel confident that it was the right choice.
Another commonly used headstone phrase is that of a biblical scripture. Although many epitaphs mention God, a biblical passage is from a direct quote from the bible. It is followed by the exact passage in the bible including the verse number. When choosing a bible passage, one usually chooses a verse that speaks of a life that extends after death with the Lord. Here are some well-known biblical passages that have appeared in countless headstone phrases over the centuries:
“Whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” John 3:15
“I am the resurrection and the life, he that believeth in me, though he were dead though shall he live.” John 11:25
“Be thou faith unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.” Revelation 2:10
On many occasions people find it prudent to leave a headstone phrase that refers to life in general. Poetry and memorable literary quotes are very often used to exemplify the nature and characteristics of a loved one. Though it might be said that leaving a poetic epitaph is less religious at times, it by no means is less meaningful. Some poetic headstone phrases are as follows:
“Write me as one, /That loves his fellow men.” James Henry Leigh Hunt, (1784-1859)
“All you Good People/that here pass by/as you are now so/once was I, as I am/now so Shall you be,/therefore Prepare to Follow me.” Henry Page, (1648-1719) It is often said that epitaphs are a way for the dead to speak to us. In fact, it is we who continue to speak to the dead - with the use of headstone phrases.