An epitaph is a small saying or inscription that is found on tombstones and niche markers around the world. These sayings provide one final glimpse into the life of the person buried in that spot. The epitaph might be written by the person’s relative, but it can also be written by the deceased.
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If you fancy writing a few last words for the world to remember you by, then you’re in the right place. Keep on reading for step-by-step instructions to write your own epitaph.
Steps for Writing an Epitaph About Yourself
If you’re getting ready to write an epitaph for yourself, sit down, take some time, and work your way through these steps. This is potentially the shortest and most impactful few sentences you’ll ever write, so make them memorable.
Learn about epitaphs
Before you start writing your own epitaph, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the definition of epitaphs. Get to know the elements of an epitaph including the typical lengths and various styles.
If you’re planning on writing your own obituary, you could also read up on how to write an obituary for yourself during this time. The more reading you do around this topic, the more inspiration you’ll have later on when it’s time to start writing.
Once you have a good idea about what an epitaph is, it’s time to start reading through some epitaph examples. While your own epitaph should be a unique reflection of your personality, life, and wishes, reading the few lines others placed on their headstones can provide inspiration.
Read a wide variety of epitaphs from different times in history, from famous people, and from people that no one knows. To plunge yourself into the experience, use a few hours and take a walk through a nearby cemetery. Read headstones and niche markers as you pass by them.
The stones you see may not mark the lives of famous people, but each person was a parent, spouse, child, relative, and friend to someone. Their headstone inscription could say a lot about them. Taking the time to walk, read, and think about those who have passed on before you can provide a healthy amount of inspiration for writing your own epitaph.
Put together an inspiration board
This step may not be for everyone, but if you’re a visual thinker or benefit from writing things down, you’ll probably love it.
Use a large whiteboard or corkboard. Divide the board into three or four sections.
On one section, write or pin the question, “What do I want people to remember me for?” Label another section with “The feeling I want to create.” Label the third section, “My preferred style.” The fourth section should be labeled, “Examples I like.”
Now that you have all four sections labeled, it’s time to have a little fun and put things on your inspiration board.
The first section asks the question, “What do I want people to remember me for?” In this section, write or pin to the board things you want people to think about when you’re gone. Examples for this section include:
- My generosity toward all people
- My humor and ability to make people laugh
- My world-famous pasta recipe
- My accomplishments
- A special piece of wisdom or truth
Write several things down in this section as you brainstorm what you want people to remember you by.
This section is to help you brainstorm the feeling you want your epitaph to create. In other words, do you want people to feel:
This is where you narrow down the style of epitaphs you like - and that is why looking at examples is super helpful. You may only like one style or you might have a few ideas in mind. List them as you brainstorm. You might like epitaphs that are written like:
- A biography
- A punchline
- A recipe
- A written letter
- A will
This section is for you to write or print out and post examples of epitaphs you like. Let these examples inspire you as you begin to sit down and write out your own. Only post the examples that you really like. Leave mediocre examples of epitaphs you only kind of like off of your inspo board.
Narrow down your choices
Once you have your inspiration board filled up, it’s time to start narrowing down choices. If you’re one of the few people who already know what you want, you can skip this step. For everyone else, return to your board and start making some eliminations.
If you have three or four things written for the first category, cross all off except your top two choices. Do this for the rest of the sections, as well.
Once you have only two choices for each category, narrow this down further until one choice remains in each category. For example, you might decide:
- You want people to remember you for your accomplishments
- You want people to feel inspired
- You want to write in poetry
Or you might decide that:
- You want people to remember your story
- You want people to feel amused
- You want it to read like a letter
Once you narrow your choices, remove all examples except ones that reflect your preferred style or get close to it.
Start drafting epitaphs
Now it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty: writing your epitaph. Don’t feel like you have to write your epitaph in one shot. Like all good things, this, too, will take time. Let your draft writing be a time where you can let your creativity loose, have fun, and come up with several examples you like.
While you’re writing your drafts, don’t worry about spelling, grammar, punctuation, or making any minor corrections. Just get your ideas on paper. Write as many drafts as you want until you feel like you’ve got a few good options to choose from.
If you’re running into writer’s block, then you might want to take a break. Go for a walk, bake some cookies, do something enjoyable that isn’t related to this project. Then, after you’ve had some time away, come back and continue to work on your writing.
Choose your best drafts
Look through all your drafts and pick the top two or three options. If you don’t feel like you have any that stand out just yet, go back to the drawing board and keep writing.
Once you have your two or three favorites, read through them all and take another short break. When you return to your drafts, eliminate one. Read the final two choices and eliminate one more. Now you have a final draft to continue refining.
Refine your final choice
Once you’ve got your final draft, pull out a fresh sheet of paper. Transfer your final draft to the new sheet of paper, making spelling, grammar, and other minor corrections as you go.
You might find that your final two drafts can be combined and crafted into one single epitaph. If that’s the case, no problem! Transfer both parts of your epitaph to the new piece of paper, combining them along the way.
Do one final check for readability, grammar, spelling, punctuation, and flow. As you read it, ask yourself:
- Does it flow well?
- Does it read as I want it to?
- Does it make sense?
- Will people understand?
- Does it accomplish my goals?
- Is it free of errors?
If your answer to these questions is a resounding “Yes!” then you’ve got yourself a winner of an epitaph. Now you can place it in a secure location, add it to your end-of-life plans, share it with a loved one, or communicate your wishes to the headstone engraver.
Whatever you decide to do with it, make sure the right people have it in your funeral wishes so it ends up on your headstone. You don’t want to go to all this work just for it to get lost to the annals of time!
Here are some examples to help you brainstorm when you’re ready to write your epitaph.
Dear friends and my family,
It’s been a good life.
I must say goodbye now,
Please hug my kids and my wife.
It’s dark in here!
I told you I was sick!
A small letter
Dear family and friends,
Love others, give without expecting anything in return, savor the small moments, and enjoy what you have. Do this, and you will have as blessed of a life as I have lived.
Your loving father, brother, uncle, cousin, and friend.
A family joke
To all my dear loved ones,
I shall now reveal my famous apple pie recipe.
Just joking! You thought I’d share my famous recipe?
Jenny has it now, and God help her soul if she tells any of you!
A recipe for life
To everyone who asked, here is my recipe for a good life.
1 cup of love
2 ounces of laughter
1 pound of compassion
3 pounds of kindness
5 ounces of patience
1 heaping cup of patience
Stir together with tears of joy and sorrow. Pour the mixture into your heart and enjoy fresh each morning, noon, and night.
I, John Johnson, bequeath all of my love, joy, hope, and happiness to my family. It is my earnest desire that each of you will use these gifts to bless those around you and make a difference in the world.
The greatest treasure in the world can be found at Latitude 44.59644 and Longitude -110.5472. It cannot be dug from the ground under you nor can you fish it from the crystal streams. Go, explore, wander, and find it. Once it is in your hand, it will be yours to keep, forever.
Words to Remember You By
No matter whether you write a poem, a punchline, or a mini letter, your epitaph is sure to stay with people long after they’ve visited your final resting place. Take your time, create something special, and make your final words ones to remember you by.