Death shall have no dignity

In a new BMJ column, Dalrymple notes the decline in the quality of tombstone inscriptions in Britain, which he says began around 1990.

Just as nurses were taught to address their patients by their first names, and diminutives of their first names, on the grounds that it was friendly to do so, so, on tombstones, Mother became Mum, or more often the Americanised “Mom,” there were no fathers any more but only Dads, and Nans, Nanas, Granpas, and Grampys began to appear in large numbers.

Diminutives appeared in brackets, as, for example, Thomas (“Tommy”) Smith or Elizabeth (“Lizzie”) Jones. Young men who die have Manchester United scarves draped on their tombs: in heaven, the team never loses. It is not that death shall have no dominion; henceforth, it shall have no dignity, a sign, surely, of unease with the whole business.

By way of comparison, I have always remembered the inscription on a tombstone I found at the Old North Cemetery in Nantucket (surely one of the most beautiful places in America):


My life in infant days was spent
While to my parents I was lent
One smiling look to them I gave
And then descended to my grave

Bezaleel Shaw
6 weeks old
Died 10/8/1770

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