Tom Sawyer was a lucky boy. As you probably know, he had the opportunity to witness his own funeral when his friends and family assumed that he was dead.
What a joyous day that must be … to stand by inconspicuously and witness that glorious ceremony marking your life.
If you’re still alive, of course.
Friends and family pull out their finest compliments, most memorable stories, and most amusing anecdotes to share with the world. All of your past indiscretions are immediately forgiven and forgotten, or they are somehow transformed into moments of levity.
When you were alive, for example, Aunt Betty never let you forget the time you accidentally ran over her pet guinea hen with your motorcycle. But now that you’re dead, she laughs about it as your body slowly decomposes beneath her feet.
Most of us never get to bear witness these glorious statements of love and appreciation, but Tom Sawyer did.
I suspect it was Mark Twain’s desire, too, wistfully encapsulated in his fiction.
Sadly, few of us will be as fortunate as Tom Sawyer, but on November 2 of this year – and every year – we have an opportunity to play a small but important role in the ceremony commemorating our worst day ever: national Plan Your Own Epitaph Day. (Many websites will also tell you that this day is marked on April 6, but for the sake of argument, we’ll go with November 2, the Day of the Dead.)
When you are long gone, the final reminder of your existence will likely be a granite marker. A monument to your life. For most people, their epitaph inexplicably amounts to a name and two dates:
John Ultra Ordinary
19-whatever to 20-who cares
Does anyone else find this a little … dumb? When deciding upon the words that will be carved into granite – a monument that will likely exist longer than you did, the best your supposed loved ones could do is your name and two of the least consequential dates of your life?
Sure, your birthday is important, and yes, the day that you die is significant, but wasn’t your wedding date more memorable and enjoyable than both? Or how about the days that your children were born? The year that you graduated college? The day you passed the bar? The summer afternoon when you hit your first and only home run?
These were the important dates in your life. The most important, in fact. But no, forget those. Instead, your loved ones are likely to opt for the day you emerged from a vagina or abdomen, and the day you finally stopped breathing for good.
That’s it. Two dates. A subtraction problem so that future generations can calculate the length of your life.
How sad. How stupid.
I propose that you instead embrace national Plan Your Own Epitaph Day and prevent the possible atrocity of the name-date epitaph from befalling you, too. Rather than running the risk of having the people who love you the most say least consequential things possible about you, why not plan it now before it’s too late?
The options are boundless. You could, for example, try to make future graveyard visitors laugh with an epitaph that tickles the funny bone. Rodney Dangerfield’s epitaph reads, “There goes the neighborhood.”
Or maybe you’re worried that even in death, you might be concerned with what others think of you. If so, perhaps pen a defense of your character and moral standing.
Robert Clay, one of the most accomplished gunslingers in the Old West, has this on his headstone:
“I never killed a man who didn’t need killing.”
Or maybe practicality makes more sense to you. Shakespeare, fearing that his body might be exhumed and studied, wrote his own epitaph. It reads:
“Good Friend, for Jesus’ sake forbear
To dig the dust enclosed here:
Blessed be the man that spares these stones,
And curst be he that moves my bones.”
Or maybe you’re hoping to continue an ongoing battle even after you’re six feet under. If so, why not use your epitaph as one final salvo in that fight?
Famed outlaw Jesse James’ epitaph reads:
“Murdered by a traitor and coward whose name is not worthy to appear here.”
As for me, I have no intention of ever dying and am incapable of even considering the possibility lest I collapse in a puddle of existential goo. But presuming that this is nothing more than a thought experiment, I think I’d opt for a list. Encapsulate as much of my personality and lifetime achievements as possible on the granite marker.
It might read something like this:
Better poker player
Planned on living forever”
Illustrated by Sean Wang