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Things I Have Learned: Cool epitaphs

A somewhat  random and reckless look at life from a fairly old guy

Today’s wisdom: May your life bear witness to what your epitaph professes.

I am a connoisseur of graveyards. I enjoy a leisurely stroll among the markers, finding a pleasant surprise here and there as I discover the name of someone I once knew, or wonder about the story of a short life recorded on the stone. But the gems of my tours are the epitaphs, the bits of wisdom shared mostly by the deceased, or occasionally those who had an opinion about the deceased.

We have pretty much lost that opportunity to get the last word in today, as most stones now merely mark the dates of birth and death. One needs to check out the oldest sections of cemeteries for the good stuff.

I spend a good share of time in the Boston area where some of our country’s oldest cemeteries exist. A recent walk there found several good examples of final statements. “Passed from death into life.” A nice hopeful religious position. “Life is brief and full of grief.” Glad I wasn’t him. “I availed myself to the good fortune to make lasting contributions to mankind.” Just making sure everyone else knows it too, I guess?

Sometimes it is clear the comment was provided by others. “Always smiling.” I wonder what she knew. “Her children shall rise up and call her blessed.” Code for they never appreciated her in life, maybe they will miss her when she’s gone?

Sometimes there is just a hint of a really good story in there somewhere that we can only guess at. “Arrested in Baltimore. Died in the penitentiary.” At least they could have told us what he did.

Occasionally we find a bit of a love letter. “Loved one, we will meet to part no more,” or “We shall meet again, never here, forever there.” In a note of appreciation to the departed, “Heaven gives us friends to bless the present and removes them to prepare for the next.” Awww, that’s sweet.

But no one has topped the one in my own town’s cemetery on the grave of Senator Magnus Johnson, “Gone to another meeting.” I can relate. I’m just sayin’.

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