02 November 2013

Plan Your Epitaph Day

Today (2 November) is Plan Your Epitaph Day. An epitaph is "an inscription on or at a tomb or a grave in memory of the one buried there," according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. It can be something simple like "beloved wife and mother" to something almost comical "I told you I had a cold."

An epitaph can be informative - that is name, birth info, death info - or it can be more personal and revealing. This example (on right) shows the stone of a Charles L Miller, buried in the Clearfield UM Church Cemetery in Providence Township, Lancaster County, PA. Charles is clearly a father who passed in 1911.  Beneath his death info reads:
A little flower of love
That blossomed but to die
Transplanted now above
(?) with God on high -

The short verse tells a few things about Charles Miller. First we see by the dates that Charles was young. He was just 27 when he passed. Second, we know he is a father so we can surmise he had a wife and at least one child. That is pretty obvious. Third, the verse is poetic but mentions God on high. Thus (in addition to the fact that he is buried in a church cemetery!) we can surmise that God was important to the family and that they were Christians. Finally, (at the risk of sounding cold) the family - be it his wife or his parents - were either financially comfortable or they were shrewd in their financial planning or someone in the family worked in the industry of tombstones. I mention these three possibilities (and I personally have no clue as I have not connected this Miller to the family Millers although they are all at the same church), because chiseling is expensive.

Not all epitaphs are pretty though they are revealing. This one at right, of Grace Hilton Herr, reveals a potentially sad story. Grace, obviously a wife and mother, died in 1928 at the age of 32. The bottom line reads "also infant daughter." One might assume from this that Grace died either during or as a result of childbirth. The child - who did not survive long enough to be named - was a girl. (Side note: Grace is buried at the Zion UCC in Providence Township, Lancaster County).

Some epitaphs may simply be reflective of the tradition of the time. For example, at left is the stone of Christian N Mayer. He is buried at the Zion UCC Church in Providence. He passed in 1893 and we can see - as did many around that time - has his exact age recorded. Many people were also identified with "husband" like Mayer here or other familial relations. Beneath his age it simply reads "gone but not forgotten."

The second definition of an epitaph is: "a brief statement commemorating or epitomizing a deceased person or something past."

So ... what would I want on mine?

I have come across many stones and many epitaphs that I like over the years. I still though have no clue what I want in the end! I think - quite honestly - mine will be a pragmatic decision based on finances. Something simple so as not to burden my husband or daughters (or whoever buries me). Perhaps just my name "Jeanne Eckman / nee Ruczhak / dates / Vichnaya Pamyat". That would be simple enough. If it would not be a burden financially then maybe (and I'm still unsure of this), after the above info another line could read "wife, mother, writer & genealogist".

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