An epitaph is an inscription on a tomb, a gravestone, a plaque, or a memorial marker that honors the memory of a deceased person. The use of epitaphs can be traced to the ancient Egyptians. Epitaphs were also used by the ancient Greeks and the Romans. The use of inscriptions in this way became commonplace around the late 1700’s.

Epitaphs can be light-hearted and witty or inspirational and profound. All great epitaphs reflect the spirit of the loved one and put a unique, personalized touch on the marker. If you want to memorialize your loved one’s life in an interesting way, you may want to consider the following tips for creating a unique epitaph.

Brainstorm ideas and get feedback

First of all, brainstorm a few ideas and get feedback from other family members. Consider your options and others’ input before making a final decision on the epitaph. For example, if the epitaph is for a parent, make sure all of your siblings are on board with the decision.

Give yourself time to think

Secondly, make sure that you leave plenty of time to decide on the epitaph you and your family want. This is not the kind of decision that you want to rush into. Start thinking ahead, and when you come up with an idea that everyone likes, sit with it for a while. Your choice will literally be set in stone.

Put yourself in your loved one’s shoes

Next, consider what your loved one would want. Would they prefer a light-hearted, humorous epitaph? Or one that moves people deeply and encourages them in daily life? Perhaps you could use a quote from one of their favorite historical figures or a quote that is unique to the individual. Brainstorm words or phrases that describe your loved one’s personality, and look for quotes that represent their character.

Examine principles, beliefs, and values

Also consider your loved one’s core beliefs and values when choosing an epitaph. If your loved one is a person of faith, you may want to consider a favorite Bible verse. Or you might want to use a quote from a poem, song, or literary work. Whatever you choose, make sure that it represents the life of the individual and what was most important to them.

Share the person’s legacy

Alternatively, many epitaphs share a snippet of the person’s legacy. You might see epitaphs that say something like, “Beloved wife, mother, and friend,” or “He gave his life for his country.” These brief testaments can bring comfort to those who come back year after year to visit the grave for a time of reflection.

Keep it short

The length of an epitaph will vary, but in most cases, it should be as compact as possible. Consider the amount of space you have available, as well as the kind of material that it will be inscribed on. Certain types of rock require larger lettering, and the bigger the letters, the shorter the epitaph will have to be. If you have any questions regarding the marker, talk with your funeral director. But remember, as a general rule, shorter is better.

Think big picture

The epitaph is an opportunity to communicate a message to people who will be visiting your loved one in the decades or even centuries to come. For this reason, it’s important to decide on an epitaph that will stand the test of time. Consider something that has universal appeal. You don’t want to decide on a passing fad or a cultural reference that will fade into obscurity as the years go by.

Finally, these tips don’t only apply to a lost loved one. Planning ahead for your own end-of-life decisions takes a burden off of your loved ones. You can choose an epitaph in advance that is reflective of your life, values, and core beliefs. By providing your loved ones with an epitaph in writing, you’ll take one more decision off of their hands after your passing.