Choosing the inscription on a headstone or memorial plaque can be more difficult than you think. It can make those responsible anxious, it can be stressful, yet at the same time be a source of comfort. Sometimes a loved one will leave behind instructions as to what they want to have engraved on their headstone. But if this is not the case it can feel like a huge responsibility for any family member who has to deliver a fitting tribute.
The inscription is a permanent tribute that you will likely dwell over for some time before making a final choice. You’ll also need to take into account the material your choice of memorial is made from as some materials work better with larger, flowing letters, which might reduce the number of words.
What Can You have on a Headstone?
When approaching the epitaph of a loved one, the first question is often ‘what can we write on a the headstone?’ There are two things to consider here:
- The words themselves – i.e the lasting tribute you want to leave as a memory of your loved one
- What is allowed in the churchyard or place of interment
The Church of England has very specific rules as to what type of headstone epitaph or memorial type is permissible in their churchyards across the UK. Any application has to be made initially to the parish council. It is often the diocese that decides which churchyards allow which headstone material and type of memorial (the Diocese of Chelmsford covers most of Essex) The vicar or parish council often also have the discretion to decide on whether a headstone or its wording is suitable for their particular churchyard. Some churches may only allow a specific style of engraving, we are able to guide you through this sometimes difficult process.
In council run or municipal cemeteries, the council can provide you with guidelines as to what is acceptable in these burial grounds but generally they are much more relaxed than churchyards.
Our page on memorials gives you a list of the materials you can choose and the types of headstones that are permitted in the borough’s churchyards and cemeteries.
Things to Think About When Choosing the Inscription on a Headstone
At Stibbards we have a wealth of experience in all aspects of Monumental Masonry and our local knowledge gives us an intimate understanding of the local burial grounds.. Here are some basic pointers that you may find useful:
- Take your time when choosing the words. There’s no hurry.
- You might find it easier if one person in the family can take responsibility for carrying out the family’s wishes.
- Remember there is no right or wrong.
- Even if you have a plan, it’s worth keeping an open mind about the designs and memorial options you are shown. The headstone will be there for, possibly, centuries so your chosen epitaph should stand the test of time.
- With that in mind, you will ideally want a memorial design and engraving that is timeless in its style too.
Choosing the Words
You want the epitaph to have an impact for those who read it in the future. For this reason lines from poem or hymn are popular choices. Humour can work but often what is meant to be funny can often fall flat in the cold light of day.
A beautiful headstone inscription will typically include the following elements:
This expresses the initial sentiments of what you’re trying to say. For example:
- Treasured Memories of
- In Loving Memory of
- Cherished Memories of
- Sacred to the Memory of
- In Remembrance of
- In Ever Loving Memory of
- Beloved Memories of
- Always In Our Thoughts
- Precious Memories of
- Loved and Remembered Always
The Name of Your Loved One
The name can be abbreviated or you can use familiar names (such as “Nan” in place of Nancy) or nicknames.
Birth and Death Dates
The date format could be simplified to something like the year of birth to year of passing or simply to the date of their passing and their age. Where a young child has passed away it might be more important to include months rather than simplify the inscription.
The relationships that the person had can be hugely important to family members.
- This would include things like ‘loving wife, mother, grandmother and daughter’.
- Some churchyards don’t allow familiar references such as ‘Nan, mum, dad’.
Your closing line should end the inscription in a thoughtful and positive way. For example:
- The Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want
- I have loved thee with an Everlasting love
- Grant him thy eternal rest
- Gone, but not forgotten
- Her life a beautiful memory, her absence
- a silent grief.
- Requiescat in Pace (May he or she rest in peace)
- Jesus called a little child unto Him
- A tiny flower, lent not given, to bud on earth
- and bloom in heaven.
- Resting where no shadows fall
- Gone from our home, but not from our hearts
- Resting where no shadows fall
- Gone is the face we loved so dear,
- Silent the voice we loved to hear
Some Traditional Lines When Choosing the Inscription on a Headstone
If you were to walk round a cemetery, you’d probably find many of the below lines on the headstones. These are examples of the traditional lines found inscribed on a loved one’s grave marker.
- In remembrance of…
- Loving father and granddad
- Dearly loved, sadly missed
- Our little angel
- Remembered always
- Who fell asleep on (date)
- Sadly taken on (date)
- (birth date and date of passing) Beloved mother and grandmother
- Dearest husband/wife and son/daughter
- Dearly loved father/mother
- Cherished son/daughter
- Much loved mother/father
- In loving memory of…
- Here lies…
- Rest in peace…
- Forever in our hearts…
- Gone but not forgotten…
Further Inspiration When Choosing the Inscription on a Headstone
Naturally religious texts, such as the bible, are a common source of inspiration for the verses and lines on an epitaph. Christian cemeteries might even insist that a biblical reference, one that conveys the Christian notion of hope and resurrection, be included.
Popular lines include:
- Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil (Psalm 23)
- Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God (Matthew 5:8)
- Sleep on now, and take your rest (Matthew 26:45)
- The Lord watch between me and thee, while we are absent, one from the other (Genesis 31:49)
Poetry and music also provides many opportunities for beautiful gravestone inscriptions. If you choose this option, you may need to check the memorial can hold the amount of letters and that the words will be approved by the cemetery or churchyard.
Engraving the Headstone
The range of options to have the message engraved on the headstone start with simple stencilling through to deep engraving with a gilded finish. The simplest is the engraving of the stone itself, allowing the different surfaces to provide the contrast.
Deeper engraving should be easier to read and will last longer. An inscription with gilding or one that has enamel applied will deteriorate with time and will need to be maintained to keep its appearance.
Memorialising your loved one in an epitaph can seem daunting but it needn’t be. There is no right or wrong way of memorialising your loved one and you don’t need to rush things. Take your time, think about what words best reflect your loved one. Think about how it will look in twenty year’s time.
Look at all the options available, even if you have a definite plan in mind. Your funeral director or headstone cutter will have vast experience in this area and will be able to give you options to put on a headstone that you perhaps hadn’t thought of.