Oddly Enough

Traditional epitaphs rest in peace

TORONTO (Reuters) - Canadians are becoming wordier, particularly when it comes to their last words.

Slideshow ( 4 images )

Alberta-based author Nancy Millar has wandered the country’s graveyards and says that over the past 20 years, gravestone epitaphs have begun to illustrate a trend of Canadians wanting to be more than “eternally beloved” when they

“rest in peace.”

“I was trying to show that Canadians are interesting and can be interesting in their graveyards,” she said about her book, “The Final Word: The Book of Canadian Epitaphs”.

“I think graveyards have a root in history. I’m not particularly creepy or any of those sorts of things, I just love them because they tell a story out there.”

Many of the nontraditional epitaphs noted in the book are whimsical.

“This wasn’t my idea,” complains a gravestone near Salmon Arm, British Columbia.

A Saskatoon headstone reads: “I’d rather be in Boston watching the Red Sox”, and in Manitoba, a widely used epitaph, according to Millar, is “I told you I was sick”.

“He who dies with the most toys wins” can be found in a cemetery near Medicine Hat, Alberta. Three hours north, in Delia, Alberta, “All things considered, we’d rather be in Philadelphia”, a variation on the W.C. Fields quotation, is immortalized.

Diane Langlois, co-owner of Mountain Memorials in Hamilton, Ontario, a family-owned business that has designed and engraved headstones since 1924, says that personalized epitaphs account for about 40 percent of her business. She attributes the upswing to technology and the Internet giving people a database of phrases to pick from. In earlier times, the Bible was often where people looked for inspiration.

Millar also says that with fewer Canadians attending religious services on a regular basis, the church has lost headstone influence.

In Ontario, each cemetery has its own bylaws, which, among other things, may lay out what can and cannot be engraved on a headstone.

The Registrar of Cemeteries, however, has the power to revoke a cemetery’s bylaws if anything “generally offensive” such as profanity, racial slurs and messages amounting to a hate crime, make it on to a headstone.

“It’s really hard to get a saying that works for you because you don’t want to be irreverent, because that offends the living people,” Millar said.

But sports enthusiasts - “Gone Fishing’; writers - “To be continued...”; romantics - “We’ll dance in the moonlight”; and even jokers - “I’m not here, I’m havin’ a beer”; all have their final say in cemeteries across the country.

“Well, I suppose you don’t dress like everyone else,” said Millar. “You want to be noticed a little bit out in the graveyard. It depends on the person, just like what we pick to wear.”

Reporting by Stefanie Kranjec; Editing by Peter Galloway