Epitaph is defined as “words written in memory of a person who has died.” Sometimes it’s a phrase or a sentence that captures the essence of the person. An epitaph is frequently seen on a tombstone of someone who has passed away. It’s also the title of a beautiful poem by a woman named Merrit Malloy.
Merrit Malloy’s poem Epitaph has been recited at countless memorial services and last year was read during an episode of NCIS. What makes it so meaningful is that it succinctly captures grief, loss, and pain, yet it is filled with hope, peace, and love. Permit me to highlight several lines from the poem
The author begins the poem with the line:
“When I die, give what’s left of me away to children and old men that wait to die.”
What strikes me about that line is the idea that love – the love we share with our spouses never dies but is meant to be given away. Give it to children who are young and full of energy, promise, and life. Children who will hopefully live many years of life and experience and grow in love so that one day they may share it with a special person. Let them bask in the glow of love.
But also give it to old men waiting to die. When I began my journey in grief, I felt alone and abandoned. Sometimes I felt like I would become an old man waiting to die. I felt that grief was too overbearing and overwhelming; I would never escape the pain, darkness, and tears. I thought I would never get out of my cave of sorrow and never see any light again. I was the old man waiting to die.
Thankfully I found the light. My family and friends, my brothers in this fraternity we share, my grief counselor, and many others guided me along the journey of grief, and I am learning how to live with it. I think the author is saying don’t wait! Don’t give up on life. Get up, move forward, and share that love your spouse or loved one freely gave you and give it to others.
Later in the poem, the author writes
“Look for me in the people I have known, and let me live in your eyes, not your mind.”
What a powerful sentence, rich with thought. In other words, don’t let me live in your mind because I will live in your past. Your mind will revisit memories of the past, some that are good, some that are sad and painful. Yes, it’s important to hold on to those memories but let me live in your eyes. Let me see the world from your point of view. Let me walk with you along this new path. Let me share as you explore new opportunities, engage in new adventures, walk in a new direction, and maybe fall in love again.
In the last part of the poem, she writes
“Love does not die; people do.
So, when all that is left of me is love
Give me away.”
The true purpose of love is to give it away. Not to hoard it; not to keep it to yourself but to share it. I hear my Diane in these words, as I am sure you hear your spouse. It reminds me that I have a responsibility to carry forward her love. To continue to be the father, grandfather, friend, and colleague to many who depend on me. Share that love and freely give it to others. The path to healing occurs when you let go and start to live in your new life, knowing that the love you shared will never die.