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Horses 1

Some time has passed since my father’s untimely death. Since then an epitaph has been chosen to be placed near his resting place deep inside a uniquely beautiful natural area within the Andean mountains of our dear Colombia. Surrounded by the nature he loved, he will surely rest in peace. The epitaph chosen, translated into English reads something like this: ”We will always have you in our hearts.” My mother, who spent most of her life beside him even when separated, approved those words. This alone speaks of their great importance.

Although this is quite a nice and simple epitaph, and in fact shows the importance of remembering the love one carries within for those who depart, I think it has some limitations. Perhaps by looking at its limitations we can become more aware of what an epitaph is for and what are the hidden possibilities within for diverse epitaphs. Maybe then we will be better prepared to engage in the reflective process which is behind the selection of those epitaphs with which we will honor the passing through life of those close to us. Perhaps it will even allow us to set out what epitaph will appear above our very own gravestones someday.

The three limitations to this epitaph are as follows: 1. it speaks more of “us” than the person who has died, namely, our father (it says “we” and “our hearts”, instead of “him” and “his heart”); 2. it is the kind of epitaph that could be placed in many tombs, so that the particularity and uniqueness of my father (and he was quite unique, I tell you!) is quite lost, and finally, 3. it tries to convince us that the aim of an epitaph is to touch our emotions primarily and only secondarily our capacity for reflection and creative imagination which are among the highest faculties we possess as human beings. In contrast, I think an epitaph should: 1. speak primarily about the person him/herself who has died, 2. reveal him or her in a special light using the expressive power of language, and finally, 3. should not primarily focus on the emotions, specially if these have not been articulated in the life of the members of these families, but should point towards reflection and the need we have of such reflection in order to guarantee a certain true and honest legacy of the person who has died. How could one come up with such an epitaph?

First off, by looking at the many famous ones which many others have used to remind us of those who were found to be memorable. One can in turn try to relate some of them to the close loved person who has died. In the case of my father two such realms come to mind. On the one hand, the serious type of epitaphs which are usually used for those who have dedicated their lives to the political or public life. The single most famous example of this type of epitaph can be seen in the words found at Thermopylae, words recently beautifully and powerfully recovered in the movie the 300:

“Go tell the Spartans, stranger passing by
that here, obedient to their law, we lie.”

At the very least these soldiers asked of their kin not to forget the sacrifice they endured in order to try to secure the lawful freedom of those intimately close they left behind. Another such powerful example of an epitaph that in its simplicity touches us like few can, is the one found at the “Tomb of the Unknown Soldier”. It reads: “Here Rests In Honored Glory An American Soldier Known But To God.” Its power lies precisely in that usually we bury those who are known to us, here the words remind us that many die in anonymity. This epitaph stands against the injustice of such anonymous deaths.

A second realm which could apply to my father would be a more ironic and fun-spirited one. Usually it is artists who have the strength to come up with such kinds of epitaphs. Given my father’s unique sense of humor, one could eventually think of an epitaph such as one which Hemingway once proposed and which reads:

“Pardon me for not getting up”

My father would have laughed.

In this respect, by letting ourselves be touched by what others have decided to lay down as their final resting words ——those few limited marks which will attempt to break us free from our mortal demise and now obvious finitude—— we would be more able to decide which words to choose for those we love and even for ourselves upon, better yet, before (!) our departure. (more…)

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