• Epitaphs, Funeral Readings & Deathbed Books

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in ABCs of Writing     Comments 27 comments

    Discussion questions: Let’s get morbid this week! What would you want to be the epitaph on your tombstone? What would you want read aloud at your funeral? What would be your deathbed book? Let’s talk about it in the comments… while there’s still time!

    Your Epitaph

    A few years ago we talked about the book we would choose to read on our deathbed. I thought it might be fun to resurrect (ugh) that question to see if any of our answers have changed — mine has! — as well as dig (ugh) a little deeper and talk about the literature that might play a role after you… leave your deathbed.

    Last year we did a micro fiction contest using the words “Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt,” a line from Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five when Billy Pilgrim imagines the words he’d like to appear on his gravestone.

    That’s an epitaph. Sometimes an epitaph includes details about the person (“beloved mother,” for example), but often they’re drawn from literature, poetry in particular. And that’s what we’re looking for here: Some words from a poem or a novel/story, or from anything you’ve read — or written! — that you’d like to see on your tombstone.

    What would be your epitaph, and why?


    Your Funeral

    A lot of us plan/hope to not be buried and have a stone. If that’s you, you can either choose to play along anyway or you can answer a different question: What would you want to be read aloud at your funeral service, and why?

    And just for fun, how about a song while you’re being carried out?


    Your Deathbed

    As for deathbed reading, the rules from the first time still apply.

    In other words, there are no rules! Interpret it however you’d like. If a longer book equals a longer life, go for it. If you want to choose a religious text, don’t be shy about saying so. And be equally non-shy about choosing a book you wrote! Maybe you want your final reading experience to include the characters you created and care about? Nothing wrong with that.

    What book would you choose to read on your deathbed, and why?

    Let’s talk about it in the comments.

    I don’t have my epitaph or funeral reading yet. In the original deathbed reading post, I picked Johnny Tremain, my childhood favorite. In the deathbed reading episode of Yak Babies, I picked Ed Abbey’s The Fool’s Progress. What will I pick this time? I have no idea! That’s the coolest part: We don’t have to decide, until we’re lying on it.


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    WriteByNight writing coach and co-founder David Duhr is fiction editor at the Texas Observer and co-host of the Yak Babies podcast, and has written about books for the Dallas Morning News, Electric Literature, Publishing Perspectives, and others.

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    John Bordeaux

    Epitaph: I was once unknown and am now a memory, soon to be unknown once more.
    Song: Cuchulain’s Lament, from Riverdance
    Book: Yuval Noah Harari”Brief History” series.

    David Duhr

    I love that epitaph. Thanks for sharing, John. Did you write it or does it come from something?

    John Bordeaux

    I wrote it, but at my age it’s entirely possible I read something like it years ago.


    This is probably a good periodic exercise, akin to composing a Bucket List. DEATHBED READING: I would read “Lost Horizon” once more because it reminds me of the beauty and inspiration I’ve experienced in this life. It also reminds me that such inspiration exists with a corresponding ugliness (evil in the world). But we grow from the friction between the two.  FUNERAL: Someone will read the “Lost Horizon” quote that will also feature on my tombstone or urn: “I thought he was clever, but rather slack.” Then a reading of a passage from my novel that ends with a funeral… Read more »

    David Duhr

    I wondered if you’d choose Lost Horizon. Seems an excellent choice.

    It strikes me that the last line of your comment would make a good epitaph: “Get drunk and speak of me as being better than I was.” I’ve written a 7,000-word short story about that very activity.

    david lemke

    This was easy; In my novel Intrusion, each chapter begins with a quote from a character. The first chapter starts with this quote from the books main character.

    Death. Been there, done that.

    If you haven’t died before, it can be quite traumatic.

    I’ve died hundreds of times.

    Like most people, I’ve lived many hundreds of lives just on Earth.

    Death gets old, although it’s still inconvenient and annoying as hell.”

    Laurel Angel Chanting

    david lemke

    I want a Viking funeral; 40foot long-boat, me laid out my twohanded bastard sword across my chest, float that boat onto Pewaukee lake, archers with flaming arrows, burn that sucker to the water-line, bagpipes, rock and role, (In-a-god-a-da-vida, Kashmir, Hall of the Crimson King, Time Warp, Hall of the Mountain King) good scotch, drinks all around…

    Last edited 3 years ago by david lemke
    David Duhr

    Have you heard of the state granting such permits for Pewaukee Lake? I know in some parts of Wisco it’s not impossible to get permission for a burial at sea.


    3 lullabies in an ancient tongue…

    david lemke

    Took me a moment.

    Sid Kemp

    As usual, David, your timing is impeccable for me. Last week, my wife Kris’s mother passed away at age 93, at home, with Kris singing and praying with her. It was a long and difficult year of Kris caring for her day and night, and Kris and I being 1,300 miles apart, me in Florida, Kris in northern Vermont. And Kris and I are already talking about how this change in life circumstance will free up a lot of time, and we are already turning out attention and commitment to our writing. I’ve done a lot of working through my… Read more »

    David Duhr

    Man, Sid, I’m very sorry to hear about Kris’s mother. Please pass along my condolences. I know it’s been an arduous and painful year for you both.

    Mary Jeffredo

    Just cremate me (make sure I’m totally dead first!) Pour my ashes in a freshly dug hole in a forest, plant a tree in the hole, and listen to the lyrics as Bette Midler sings “The Rose.”

    David Duhr

    This sounds peaceful and pleasant. Thanks for sharing, Mary.

    Elissa Malcohn

    I don’t want a funeral. I want a party, following the example of a friend who died in 1985. I also don’t want a tombstone. I’ve made arrangements with ScienceCare (body donation for scientific research) to come pick me up, and hope that when my time comes my body will still qualify for the program. I also hope that Recompose has expanded far enough geographically by then so that they could be a Plan B. I’ve been following their progress ever since they began as the Urban Death Project, turning corpses into compost. Provided I still can, I would rather listen to music than… Read more »

    David Duhr

    Thanks for sharing, Elissa. I like the party idea. My family tends to do both; we have something of a funeral, but then afterwards we go to someone’s house or to a bar and people usually end up dancing to loud music on top of chairs.


    All that is gold does not glitter,Not all those who wander are lost;The old that is strong does not wither,Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

    David Duhr

    An excellent choice, Tadd. Thanks for playing!


    I came, I saw, I sympathized more with the conquered than the conquering. For this I was called a fool.

    David Duhr

    I like this. You wrote it yourself? For this, or did you already have it mapped out?


    Yes, no, kinda.



    Fly my carcass out to the southwestern desert, a spot where buzzards are plentiful. Push me out of the plane at dawn so that I splat on the desert floor and thus provide fresh breakfast for the buzzards. Read “Sailing to Byzantium” by WBY for me as I fall from the plane. Scream “Buzzard’s Luck!” as I hit the ground. Play “Proud and Humble” by Imelda May on the way out before dumping me out, and play “Gasoline Alley” by Rod Stewart on the way back.

    David Duhr

    I dig it. Have you passed this plan along to the people who would carry it out?


    Well…my ex is willing to push me out of a plane right now…

    David Duhr

    Could be good practice. A trial run.

    david lemke

    The Tibetans do this; they find a high secluded place where buzzards soar…

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