In yesterday’s New York Times, the “Modern Love” column in the Sunday Styles section featured a poignant essay about selecting a headstone and what gets written on it. In “When I Was Left to Speak for Both of Us,” author Paula Ganzi Licata detailed her shopping excursion to select a headstone for both she and her husband, who had died quickly and unexpectedly of kidney failure at the age of 50.
Her column makes a good case for planning ahead, even if you are in good health and death seems a far-off possibility.
She wrote, “Robert and I hadn’t seriously discussed plans for our deaths, such as where he might want to be buried. But I’m Catholic, and we both have relatives at St. Charles (a cemetery operated by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn), so it seemed the obvious choice. At a time of such extreme upheaval and sudden decision making, obvious choices are very appealing. I bought a plot for two, along with a single headstone for us both.”
She then had additional decisions to make: granite color, whether to etch, sandblast, or hand-carve the stone, which lettering style, what to write for the term of endearment and an epitaph. Diane, the woman with Holy Family Monuments who was working with the author, instructed her on the language of the dead.
From the essay: “Words have nuances on a headstone. “‘Beloved’ implies the spouse was very loved,” Diane explained. “‘Devoted’? Not so much.”
The author also wrestled with an epitaph that would reflect the personality of her husband, who loved movies, TV, aviation, and collecting Hollywood kitsch and Atomic Age antiques, and still be acceptable to the administration of the cemetery. She wanted “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” but that was too long. Her sister suggested just “Over The Rainbow.” The cemetery rejected it, because it wasn’t a line from the Bible, although they had no problem with a Jiminy Cricket image on the headstone.
She finished, “In the end, I was able to negotiate ‘Over the Rainbow and Into God’s Hands,’ which isn’t a line in the Bible, either. But I was satisfied that I had done my best romancing the stone.”
Click here to read the full essay. And think about where you want to be and what you want on your tombstone.