(Information for this essay comes from the following sources: the websites corsit.com, wikiquote.org, how stuffworks.com, wikipedia.org, seeing-stars.com)
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One of the many things I like doing is visiting local cemeteries to pay homage to people who have passed on. To give thanks.
How poor would we be if these people had not existed?
I also like to read the inscriptions on their headstones. Some are very inspirational. Some are uplifting. Some are downright funny. Here are a few of my favourites from around the world.
Cowboy icon and movie star John Wayne challenges us with his wording on his headstone. Buried in Pacific View Memorial Park, Newport Beach, California, the “Duke’s” headstone reads the following inscriptional words: “Tomorrow is the most important thing in life. Comes into us at midnight very clean. It’s perfect when it arrives and it puts itself in our hands. It hopes we’ve learned something from yesterday.”
Known for the “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral” lawman Wyatt Earp, makes his final resting place at “Hills of Eternity” in Colma, California near San Francisco. The wording on his headstone – very simple, very spiritual – reads: “Nothing’s So Sacred As Honor And Nothing’s So Loyal As Love”.
Buried in Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C. is U.S.A.F. Sgt. Leonard Matlovich, a Vietnam vet, and known homosexual. His headstone shows the hypocrisy of the military and, in reality, us: “When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.”
Poet Emily Dickinson, buried in West Cemetery, Amherst, Massachusetts has the words “Called Back” above the date of her death on her headstone.
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But some celebrities and the not so famous use humour on their headstones.
Buried in Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles is comedian (“I get no respect”) Rodney Dangerfield. His headstone reads “There goes the neighborhood.”
There is an atheist buried in a cemetery in the small town of Thurmont, Maryland, (pop. 6000 +, about 10 miles from the Pennsylvania border and near the U.S. president retreat Camp David) His headstone reads: :”Here lies an atheist. All dress up and no place to go.”
John Yeast’s final resting spot is in the small town of Ruisodo (pop. about 8000), south central part of New Mexico. He uses a play on words. “Here lies John Yeast. Pardon me for not rising.”
And British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill shows us his wit at his gravesite. Buried at St. Martin’s Church, Bladon in Oxfordshire. His headstone reads: “I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.”
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But some of the more inspirational headstones are right here in my own backyard – Toronto.
In St. James Cemetery, on one tombstone are the Leonard Cohen’s words:” Love is the engine of survival.”
Just inside the main gates at St. James are several headstones where, in the interest of others, people have donated their remains to health education and research to medical schools.
In Mount Pleasant Cemetery, also in Toronto, lies the Eaton Mausoleum named after Timothy Eaton who started a chain of department stores across Canada. (The stores are now defunct).
Beside his mausoleum stands a headstone for family members still living. On this headstone reads the following words:
Count the day lost
whose low descending sun
sees at thy hand
no worthy action done.
But my favourite lies in Mt. Pleasant Cemetery also. The headstone sits on a tiny land mass, all alone, with the name Gilmore on it. At the bottom of this headstone is engraved a simple quote but very inspirational: “To live in the hearts you leave behind is not to die.”
By looking at death, we learn how to live.