Did you know that decades ago it was fashionable for people to prepare their own headstone inscriptions or grave markers epitaphs? For those who weren’t clever at writing, a professional “monument poet” could be hired. Throughout history, tombstone inscriptions have existed because every life is worth remembering…and many loving, and even curious epitaphs go well beyond the dates of birth and death. A few years ago, award-winning author Douglas Keister published a book called Stories in Stone – a Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography. Of course, the topic is a complicated one. Did you know that it’s quite rare to see a sunflower on a tombstone? (That surprises me, since the sunflower is one of our most requested icons on our memorial windchimes.) Or that the human foot symbolizes humility and service since it consistently touched the earth. Stories in Stone provides this history and unlocks the language of a wide variety of common and not so common cemetery symbols. Keister’s photography is top-notch, earning him the title, America’s most noted photographer of historic architecture.
While funeral traditions are changing, I think most of us still find that cemeteries are peaceful and spiritual places.
A bronze plaque outside Mission South Funeral Home-San Antonio, TX, reads: A Cemetery Is where lives are commemorated, deaths are recorded, families are reunited, memories are made tangible, and love is undisguised; This is a cemetery. Communities accord respect, families bestow reverence, historians seek information and our heritage is thereby enriched. Testimonies of devotion, pride and remembrance are cast in bronze to pay warm tribute to accomplishments and life, not the death of a loved one. The cemetery is homeland for memorials that are a sustaining source of comfort to the living. A cemetery is a history of people, a perpetual record of yesterday and a sanctuary of peace and quiet today. A cemetery exists because every life is worth loving and remembering – always.
This large headstone quoted below appeared to cover three plots in a cemetery in TX; Wade was only 17 yrs. old when he died and Catherine (beloved of Wade) died 1 yr. later at 19 years old.
When you are told that I am dead, do not believe it.
Walk among the trees and I will speak to you.
In the soft, mystery song of the wind;
Touch a leaf sprinkled with sunshine and you will be touching me.
Pick up a smooth, worn stone and throw it into the sea,
That will help you to understand that I am not dead;
Whether I am in your hand or in the sea,
I am a child of the changing earth, changed and free.
I thought this particular headstone inscription was amazing, given Wade’s short time on earth. It also occurred to me that this would make a beautiful poem card to accompany our line of Amazing Grace memorial wind chimes.