Just who has the last word rather depends. There are those who carefully stipulate in their wills exactly what should be on their grave marker, while others (more fool them) leave it up to those still alive to decide how the dead should be remembered.
In the former classification was the comedian Spike Milligan, known particularly as one of the founder of The Goons, often regarded as the foundation of quirky modern British humour.
Milligan was bipolar as its known these days, swinging from deep depression to euphoria. It’s difficult to tell which mood he was in when he wrote his own epitaph: Dúirt mé leat go raibh mé breoite, Gaelic for “I told you I was ill.”
Sadly, Milligan was not the first with this witticism. He died in 2002. Twenty-three years earlier, in a cemetery in Florida, B P Roberts was laid to rest under a stone that said I Told You I Was Sick. He wasn’t the first – there are many more examples.
Another person who grumbled about people not taking her ailments seriously was Margaret Daniels, laid to rest in a graveyard in Richmond, Virginia. Either that, or someone else had had quite enough of putting up with her complaints: She Always Said Her Feet were Killing Her But Nobody Believed Her.
Eccentric actress Joan Hackett would drive directors crazy with her insistence on getting 10 to 12 hours’ sleep. She would routinely hang a note on her door, reading, “Go away. I’m asleep.” She had that put on her gravestone, too.
Some of the best epitaphs, however, are the ones thought up by those who survived the not-so-dear departed.
In Nova Scotia relatives had the last, rather bitter, laugh when they buried Ezekial Aikle: Here Lies Ezekial Aikle, Age 102. The Good Die Young.
In Oconto Falls, in Canada: Here Lies The Body Of A Man Who Died. Nobody Mourned, Nobody Cried. How He Lived, How He Fared, Nobody Knows, Nobody Cared. Ouch.
Or on the marker in Massachussetts of the grave of Arabella Young, who died in 1771: Here Lies As Silent Clay Miss Arabella Young, Who On The 21st Of May Began To Hold Her Tongue.
Revenge can also be quite subtle. In a cemetery in Montreal is a stone that reads:
Free your body and your soul,
Unfold your powerful wings,
Climb up the highest mountains,
Kick your feet up in the air.
You may now live forever,
Or return to the earth,
Unless you feel good where you are.
Now read the first letters of each line.
Finally, lest you think that the dead are worse off than you are, consider this epitaph from a grave in Sudely, England: I may be dead, but you are ugly.