‘Return To Sender’: Epitaphs to Die For

Washington’s cemeteries are alive with final comments of the dearly departed, and with Halloween upon us, it is wise to remember that getting in the last word is best left to the dead.

Gravestone makers such as Seattle’s Dave Quiring recounts the intentionally cryptic epitaph of a Microsoft software engineer: “Press Any Key To Continue.”

At Mount Pleasant Cemetery atop Queen Anne Hill, a happy hour-loving tippler chose this for his stone: “It’s 5 o’clock somewhere.” Not far away, on a grassy knoll, another man echoes those boozy sentiments: “Life is too short not to have a little umbrella in your drink.”

In a Tukwila crypt rests for all eternity a woman who had carved to her stone this not-so-unique last lament: “I Told You I Was Sick.”

Dave Quiring, owner of Quiring Monuments, has been in the business of assisting headstone-hunting families for 50 years. “Most of us don’t think about death, or about what we want to say at the end to be remembered,” he muses.

“A lot of it, of course, is mundane, the kind of expressions you see in Hallmark cards.” Vanishing, he adds, are the more prophetic epitaphs, steeped in classic literature, poetry, or religion.

The 72-year-old Quiring, who inscribed a poem from Robert Frost’s “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening” (“But I have miles to go, And promises to keep before I sleep...”) on his father’s headstone, happily reveals what he intends for his own gravestone: “Death is my life.”

Some epitaphs, these lingering imprints of a life etched in stone, are profound, others tearful and touching. At Lake View Cemetery on Capitol Hill, head groundskeeper Kevin Haley, trudging through thick morning fog last week, points out the grave of a woman named Ada. She sleeps in eternal peace beneath a large white marble stone, much of it fastened into the shape of a piano. By intention, one of the 88 keys is missing.

At Crown Hill Cemetery, a man in no apparent hurry to pass through the Pearly Gates offered this reluctant adieu: “Well … Goodbye,” – a haunting, albeit quizzical counterpoint to the woman in a Spokane graveyard who had chiseled “Oh, Never Mind” on her own hunk of granite.

Who can resist (or forget) the cold crisp last words of “Old Raymond,” buried in a cemetery plot in Vancouver, Wash. His epitaph cuts to the chase: “Enough said.”

Then there’s the wisenheimer embedded in a Tacoma graveyard named James Frost whose (gallows) humorous adios reads: “I’ve Been Down Before, But Not Like This.”

At Greenwood Memorial Park Cemetery in Renton, a fishing rod is etched to a man’s gravestone. His swan song: “Gone Fishin.’”

There are also epitaphs that are simply baffling. “I’d rather be upside down in a canoe,” reads the last words of woman buried at Calvary Cemetery. Another woman at Mount Pleasant chose this: “No regrets, I love my Honda.”

Also at Mount Pleasant, where one of the implanted patrons ghoulishly observed: “I See Dead People,” a dark slab of granite rises from the grave of Neil and Geneva Edwards. Sculpted to the face of the stone is the perfect likeness of the 1962 Studebaker that Neil, the cemetery’s owner, used to drive like a bat out of hell on the windy roads that crisscross the 162-year-old graveyard.

Their sweet so long: “We’ve had a great ride.”

In the same Queen Anne burial ground, beneath some evergreens, sits the grave of a man named Woody. Nothing else is written, only “Woody – 1939-1987.” If every grave tells a story, one can only wonder what prompted this 48-year-old, or next of kin, to christen his final resting place with a finely wrought replica of Marilyn Monroe, her skirt fluttering heavenward.

The world’s graveyards are ripe with telling tales of ones earthly time -- and often, even in death, humor and wit prevail. Few of them, of course, rival Dorothy Parker’s famous “Excuse My Dust,” or the most celebrated inscription, that of W.C. Fields: “I’d Rather Be in Philadelphia.

The startingly funny epitaph on the tomb of a Pennsylvania spinster: “No hits, no runs, no heirs.”

Chiseled, fittingly enough onto the headstone of an auctioneer named Jedediah Goodwin: “Born in 1828. Going! Going!! Gone!!! 1876.”

A young man, his final resting place a Ritzville boneyard, distilled his uneventful journey through this vale of tears down to a single empathic request: “Return to Sender.” The 90-year gent, buried 6-feet under at Lake View Cemetery, didn’t mince words either. His punchy exit line: “Passed Out.”

Finally, there’s the attorney buried in a Rockford, Illinois, cemetery. His wonderful epitaph, that other lawyers have used as well: “The Defense Rests.”

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