It’s coming up to a year since my dad died and in accordance with the Jewish tradition of marking this passing of time, we will be holding the stone-setting ceremony next week.

My brother and I spent hours thinking about the epitaph. Admittedly, our panegyric abilities are not on par with Wordsworth or Shakespeare, but despite both being fairly adept with words, we really struggled.

Everything we came up with sounded trite and pat. We knew we had to consider each word very carefully - after all, they would be, quite literally, set in stone. It was an onerous task.

How do you encapsulate a whole life in just a few words and who are these words for anyway? Certainly, not for our dad; a man not given to fanfare, he really would not have cared a jot.

Ham & High: Shelley-Anne Salisbury has been thinking about the words on headstonesShelley-Anne Salisbury has been thinking about the words on headstones (Image:

Perhaps they’re for the survivors? But we all knew and loved him and didn’t need words on a headstone to recall what he meant to us.

Maybe they’re for the unknown descendants who might want to get a sense of an unknown ancestor. Or, perhaps, they’re just for the casual visitor who might stop and read an epitaph or two and wonder about the person for whom they were written.

There was much soul (and thesaurus) searching but, in the end, we decided on the two words our mother had uttered as she passed by dad’s coffin at his funeral. The Best. It was the perfect epitaph.

A couple of weeks ago we went to check on the newly installed stone. There’s something very final about a headstone and it was a sobering moment until my daughter pointed out the headstone opposite.

It had been recently erected and included the words Simply The Best. It was the ultimate face-off and (after the initial shock) we all dissolved into helpless laughter.

Finding humour in these sombre moments is supremely human. My cousin and I had the giggles at our grandfather’s funeral. Despite the obvious disapproval from the adults, we couldn’t stop. Looking back, I think we just didn’t know how to express our grief. Laughing and crying can often look the same.

All joking aside, as we approach the stone-setting we are feeling a mix of emotions. This past year has been a rollercoaster. We have laughed and cried, sometimes both at the same time.

Next week we will gather around dad’s grave, read the words on his headstone, nod approvingly, recite prayers with a deep love for the man he was, and hope dad and his opposite neighbour can agree to disagree about who is The Best.

  • Shelley-Anne Salisbury is a mediator, writer and the co-editor of Suburb News,