Inscriptions – What More Can Words Say?

Having been instrumental in the creation of hundreds of memorials the area that most people struggle with is the epitaph or in short, what to write on the inscription.

For some families that is simple, and they write something along the lines of “In loving memory of Joan Rivers, beloved wife, mother, grandmother and great grandmother” along with some kind of finishing sentiment such as “Forever in our hearts.”

Others however want to say more, to not only pay homage to the person they are celebrating but also to give the reader a little inkling of what that person was like and what they meant to those left behind.  But how do you do that?

My advice is always that “less is more” so try to think about one sentence that sums up your loved one and build on that.  Some of my favourites from recent memorials I’ve helped to design are:

“The best Nana.” 14-year-old Lila about her Nana, Lila also drew the Lily which adorns her Nana’s memorial.  

“Always here for a natter.” Tracey about her beloved Dad, for whom she leaves a mug of tea on his memorial each time she visits.

“A true Gentleman.” Helen, summing up her husband perfectly.

“A lovely lady. Brave and caring.” Steven of his beautiful wife.

“True to Herself and Others, Dry but Shy, Quietly Kind, Loving and much Loved.” Words chosen with such care by a bereaved daughter and her father.

“It’s not the time that matters.  It’s the person.” Perfectly chosen words for a Dr Who fan. Especially selected by his 10-year-old daughter. 

“You brought sunshine into our lives with your smile.  Here comes the Sun.” Heartfelt words, specially selected for Ken by his family.

“Beloved Mother, Grandmother and Friend.  Writer and Teacher. Greatly missed by all who knew her.  Can there ever really be too many daffodils?”  Perfect words for a grave that turns yellow with a sea of daffodils in springtime.

“And I flew, I flew happily.  Higher than the sun and even higher.” Perfect for a pilot. 

“Time passes.  Love remains.  Keep dancing.” So simple yet so expressive.

“An inspirational Lady who made a difference to so many.”  A lady whose memorial features hand-carved bluebells – her favourite flower, drawn by her daughter. 

Some people like to give a little insight into the profession or passion of their loved ones, one memorial:

Freeman of the City of York, Lord Mayor of York, Sheriff of York.”  

Or,  perhaps more curiously: “Mistress Kitty.”

“Watch and clockmaker of Preston and York.” To be found on a newly fitted memorial to a Victorian grave.

“Roman archaeologist and glass scholar.” The memorial of a Professor from Stourbridge.

“She speaks with wisdom and on her tongue is the law of kindness.”

Probably one of my favourites is to be found on a memorial erected in memory of the long-lost family of Actor Mark Addy who it was discovered had relatives buried in York Cemetery in an unmarked grave.  It simply reads: “Once lost. Now found.”

My advice when thinking about the inscription is to take your time and reflect on your loved on because what you might write on the day you bury them when you are at the height of your grief may be very different to what you might write a few weeks or months later.

A good example of why it’s a great idea to reflect is taken from the lady who was angry at her partner leaving her so suddenly.  So angry in fact she wrote on his inscription: “Under this sod lies an even bigger sod!”

The latter actually worked out quite well in the end as it brings a smile to her face each time she visits the grave.

So, in conclusion, first work out who the memorial is for – is it for you to celebrate a life or is it a marker of a person?  Or perhaps it’s to tell the world a little about who that person was.  If you’re stuck to summarise what you want to say reflect on what others said when paying their last respects and you will find that many will have said similar things: “Such a kind lady, she was a friend to all.” Use these sentiments as your starting point and you will find the words.

© Sharon Malone, 2021 Author and founder of “A Monumental Muse.”


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