A friend's mother adored gardening and poetry. So her family decided to engrave her bronze gravestone with the final words in William Wadsworth's "Daffodils": "And then my heart with pleasure fills, and dances with the daffodils."
How should you decide what to inscribe on a loved one's headstone? "Has your parent ever actually stated what he or she would like as an epitaph?" says Nashua, N.H., psychologist Carl Hindy, author of If This Is Love, Why Do I Feel So Insecure? "Are there phrases or sayings that were favorites of your mother or father that seem to capture something essential about their outlook on life? If not, what do you think friends and family have most often thought of this parent? What have they said to you over the years, and what have they been saying at the wake and funeral as they express their condolences?"
Many families postpone the marker decision for months or even years. "When you look at that name and that date, you have to acknowledge that it has happened – no more denial," says Joan Muser, president of Lots for Less (and a second cousin once removed). "The designing of the marker is one of the most emotional things you do surrounding a death. And it's the one thing you're going to be looking at for the rest of your time. If you visit the cemetery, that's what you're going to see."
Some memorial parks impose rules and regulations on whether headstones must be granite, bronze, or a combination. Expect to spend at least $400 for even the most basic granite gravestone. Bronze, often required in newer sections of cemeteries, costs more. Matthews International, the leader in the bronze memorial business, offers Asian, Arabic, and Hebrew typefaces. Memorials.com sells grave markers Granit-Bronz, the second-largest maker.
With metal, families can cast emblems — from birds to Harley-Davidsons to Chihuahuas. Sometimes survivors decide to get a hand-painted Dedo portrait on porcelain. (Typically these pictures need covers to withstand the weather.)
With more art and words, the price escalates. But Muser considers it money well spent. "If you can put an entire Bible passage or poem on a marker, I can't think of a better way to personalize them," she says. Popular lines: "I fought the good fight" and, "Well done, good and faithful servant." Another favorite: "Footprints in the Sand."
Sylvia Plath's husband, the English poet Ted Hughes, chose these words for his suicidal wife's gravestone: "Even amidst fierce flames the golden lotus can be planted." Other families choose the more straightforward "beloved wife and mother."
Some people honor funny relatives with humorous words on markers. Muser's favorite: "I told you I was sick."
For more stories about the death of a parent, read: