Let’s say you want an epitaph to hedge against nothingness. Why not have a serious conversation with yourself about becoming a tattoo? You do know you can become a “memorial tattoo,” right?
Say your significant other agrees to wear your ashes. The tattoo artist takes a portion of your cremated ashes, pulverizes them, mixes them with tattoo ink and creates an image.
A baseball fan might choose a catcher’s mitt as the tattoo along with the epitaph “Out!” Corny, but close to what Asheville native Michael Luther’s sister did for his headstone. He was such an avid Pac-Man player his sister had his headstone fashioned like a Pac-Man machine, complete with epitaph,“Game Over.”
If you write your own epitaph, and get stuck, epitaph-writing internet sites can assist with that grave matter. If your “end statement” will appear on a headstone, then your last words will be etched in stone, so they require thought.
Here’s an urn of epitaph history: If epitaph sounds Greek, it is; it’s from epitaphion, with epi meaning “at” or “over” and taphos meaning “tomb.” The earliest epitaphs are on Egyptian sarcophagi. In Britain, epitaphs on tombs of Roman occupiers are in Latin, like hic jacet (here lies), followed by name and rank.
Some epitaphs hawked accomplishments. Sir Christopher Wren was the architect who rebuilt most of London after the Great Fire of 1666. His five-word epitaph was in the center of St. Paul’s Cathedral, Wren’s masterpiece. It reads, “Lector, si monumentum requiris, circumspice” or “Reader, if you seek his monument, look around you.”
Remember “Good friend for Jesus sake forbear, to dig the dust enclosed here. Blessed be the man that spares these stones, and cursed be he that moves my bones?” One account is that Shakespeare wrote this pragmatic epitaph to keep grave robbers from digging up his corpse to sell to universities for medical instruction.
In the “new world,” Puritans used epitaphs to remind graveyard readers of the temporal nature of life and to admonish them to get right with their maker: “Remember friend as you pass by, As you are now so once was I. As I am now you will surely be. Prepare thyself to follow me.”
Thomas Jefferson authored “Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, Author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom and Father of the University of Virginia.”
Ben Franklin plugged his profession: “The body of B. Franklin, Printer; Like the cover of an old Book, Its contents torn out, And stript of its Lettering and Gilding, Lies here, Food for Worms. But the Work shall not be wholly lost; For it will, as he believ’d, appear once more, In a new and more perfect Edition, Corrected and amended by the Author.”
Here’s Winston Churchill’s: “I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.”
In our tech world, the wraps are off. There’s solar-powered headstones with sensors that know if you are near, and if so, prattle on about the dearly departed.
And there are comedians’ and motion picture stars’ epitaphs, cracking one last joke. Case in point, “I told you I was sick.” Oft-borrowed for grave humor, it’s traceable to Terence Milligan (aka “Spike”), an Irish-British, born-in-India British comedian who died in 2002. The Irish original was: Dúirt mé leat go raibh mé breoite (“I told you I was ill.”)
Then there’s Rodney Dangerfield’s, “There goes the Neighborhood”; Merv Griffin’s “I will not be back after this message”; and Jack Lemmon’s “In.”
Each is among celebs in the in-place to be buried, Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery, in Los Angeles, where a gated family “estate” with a “view” can top a cool $2 million. Famous company is there, celebs like Farrah Fawcett, Marilyn Monroe, Natalie Wood, Hugh Hefner, George C. Scott, Eva Gabor, to name just a few.
“Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry is nowhere to be found in Westwood or any other cemetery. In 1992 he became a post-life space cadet when part of his ashes blasted off aboard spacecraft Columbia. Then, in 1997, more of Roddenberry’s ashes, along with Timothy Leary’s, and those of 22 others were rocketed into space aboard Celestis Company’s Founders Flight.
Celestis is a private company specializing in space “burials.” A thousand bucks will get your ashes on a suborbital flight but $12,500 will get them a one-way ticket into deep space.
If you’re thinking about becoming first to be buried on the moon, forget it. Part of planetary scientist Eugene Shoemaker’s ashes made the trip aboard NASA’s Lunar Prospector spacecraft and were released to land on the south polar region of the moon on July 31, 1999.
Still, the sky’s the limit.
Michael Smith is a Southern Pines resident and a man of many last words.