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What to put on a headstone

If your loved one has passed away and you’re deciding how to commemorate them, you may choose to have a headstone made.

But what can you put on a headstone? Understanding the restrictions around headstone inscriptions is important, and at such an emotional time most people will seek advice. If your family is religious, you may seek the advice of your local diocese.

Below are some examples of the advice given by regional dioceses:

The incumbent may permit additional words provided that: a) they are not tactless; b) they are consistent with Christian scripture, teaching and doctrine; and c) they do not intentionally, by implication or otherwise, draw a comparison of any sort with anyone else buried in the churchyard” (Diocese of Birmingham).

Inscriptions should be simple, dignified and reverent. Passing sentiments are to be avoided. Encouraged are brief epitaphs with biblical or well-known hymnal words which reflect the life and work of the deceased” (Diocese of Norwich).

If your family is not religious, you can still have a headstone made and inscribed for your loved one to commemorate them. It’s important to check with the cemetery first and talk them through the inscription you want to add to your loved one’s headstone.


Headstone inscriptions

When choosing an inscription for your loved one’s headstone, you may want to spend time speaking with other family members first. Share your ideas of your loved one’s life and try and come up with a fitting tribute together.

One of the most popular types of headstone inscriptions is an epitaph.

What is an epitaph?

An epitaph is simply a statement or phrase that commemorates the deceased and is inscribed on a headstone or other type of memorial. Epitaphs usually describe the deceased and use wording like “in loving memory”, or could be a short quote such as “I soar with angels”. They are a sensitive, concise way of commemorating the deceased through words.

Other types of headstone inscriptions

You don’t have to choose an epitaph for your loved one’s memorial. See below for more examples that you could have inscribed on your loved one’s headstone:

  • Biblical scripturesto pay tribute to your loved one’s faith, you may want to have their favourite verse inscribed on their headstone, with the Psalm number added underneath.
  • Song lyricsif your loved one had a favourite song, you may wish to have the lyrics engraved on the headstone. Or, if your loved one was a singer, you may choose to have their own lyrics on the headstone.
  • Personal quotesyour loved one may have written their headstone inscription before they died, to make the decision easier for family when the time came.
  • Cryptic wordingyou may choose to inscribe a riddle, a cryptic phrase or even clues to an inside joke that only family understand.
  • Famous quoteswhether said by a famous person or sourced elsewhere, famous quotes are another option to engrave on your loved one’s headstone.
  • Imagery you may decide to include an image on your loved one’s headstone. Some people choose ribbon shapes around the wording, or birds to symbolise freedom. Some cemeteries will allow you to have photographs of your loved one engraved using ceramics.

Whichever option you decide to choose, it should be meaningful and a clear depiction of your loved one’s memory, but also in line with the regulations of the burial site. The words to put on a headstone memorial are important and are a decision that should be made with thought and care.

If you’re struggling with what to write on a headstone, you can ask your funeral director for advice. They can encourage you to think about different experiences your loved one had, and help you decide which wording best commemorates them.

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