Death – illustration of a person alone on a long path in the clouds that disappears in the distance in the sky.
Illustration: AdobeStock / Jorm S  

I Asked My Friends What They'd Write on Their Gravestones

"If you were walking around a cemetery and I made you laugh from the depths of the afterlife, my mission is complete."
Nadia Kara
Antwerp, BE

A version of this article originally appeared on VICE Belgium.

Death is all around us. It might sound grim, but at the end of the day, every single living thing is bound to meet its demise. It’s the only certainty we have from the minute we are born and, perhaps, the only thing that gives meaning to our existence.


But, most of us are extremely uncomfortable thinking about the end of our lives - in some cases, people even experience extreme fear and anxiety about it. Whatever your relationship with death, at some point you’ll be confronted with one fundamental question: In a broken world where nothing really matters, what do you want to leave behind?

To explore this, I spoke to some friends about their relationship with death and asked them how they’d like to be remembered on their headstones. The result is a mix of denial, naive disillusion and depressing conclusions about life. Thanks, pals.

‘Everything can fall apart’ - An-Josefien, 31

Line drawing of a heart-shaped tombstone reading "everything can fall apart" with doodles of plants and other things all around it

“I've always collected gravestone ideas. As soon as I think of a good one, I’ll jot it down. I even posted them on Twitter for a while, though I ended up deleting the app. ‘Everything can fall apart’ is my best one, I think. It’d be ironic to have it written in diamonds, since my body will eventually decompose after I die, while the diamonds won’t.

At the age of nine, I was diagnosed with chronic depression - at 11, with OCD. I also attempted suicide when I was 14. Fortunately, I really lived my life to the fullest after that. Then I was in a bad accident a few years ago, but I survived that too. Now, I’m extremely grateful for life and I have a lot of respect for it - despite everything.


I grew up an atheist. But when I was born in Nouméa [the capital of New Caledonia], my umbilical cord was thrown into the ocean, so I’d be free and at home everywhere. It makes sense for my ashes to be scattered back there.

I come from an Indigenous people with a history of genocide, which has probably resulted in a lot of ancestral trauma. Today, I see it as my mission to make sure our DNA survive the limits of death.”

‘Lorem ipsum’ – Céleste Renard, 21

Line drawing of a tombstone planted in the grass reading "Lorem ipsum".

“It might be because of my age, but I find it really hard to imagine death. I’ve never experienced the death of a loved one, so it’s still a bit of an abstract concept for me right now - hence the ‘Lorem ipsum’ [placeholder text]. The only thing I sometimes think about, is how my family and friends would react if I died tomorrow. Who would be at my funeral? Who would be the most upset? But, hey, that’s just an ego trip.

I'm not particularly afraid of dying, but getting old scares me. My grandparents are around 80 and sometimes tell me they’ve done everything they wanted - they say they’d be ready to leave if it happened. Beyond 80, I have the feeling that life is just about fighting death at all costs.

After death, I think we’ll live in the memory of others, and that's it. No heaven, no hell, no reincarnation… just a memory. In the end, that's also what I’d like to leave behind. I’d like to make people smile when they think of the times we spent together.”


‘Is this really what I was so freaked out about?’ - Matthias, 31

Line drawing of a tombstone with a small patch of garden in the front with two fingers poking out and a flower planted in the ground that looks like it's dying. The headstone reads: "Is this really what I was so freaked out about?"

“Ever since I was little, I’ve been paranoid about death. All the other kids were excited to grow up, and I really, really wasn’t. Today, I know for a fact that being an adult actually sucks - I knew it!

During my teenage years, I managed to get rid of a lot of my anxieties - well, so I thought. Six months ago, excessive fatigue and my unhealthy lifestyle set off a never-ending cycle of panic attacks. To get out of it, I had to go back and relearn everything. It’s in this context that I’m now trying to explore the question of why I’m so afraid of death - one of the few certainties that awaits me.

There's no simple answer, but the most important thing I’ve identified is the existential guilt we impose on ourselves to make the most of life. No one wants to end up on their deathbed, feeling like they haven't enjoyed their life to the fullest. The pressure is enormous and we never really enjoy things in the moment - or, at least, not for long.

For the past six months, I've been working on accepting and appreciating things as they are through meditation, journaling, and behavioural therapy. My FOMO is still there, but instead of thinking about it all the time, I accept it and give it a certain place in my life. I’ve been having fewer panic attacks and I'm also a lot more at peace, in my head.


I don't think people realise that happiness isn't something you can pursue. Sometimes, everything is fine in our life and for some inexplicable reason, we still feel anxious or depressed. When that happens, you try to convince yourself you shouldn't feel bad, but end up making it worse.

I’ve stopped focusing on milestones now. Instead, I think of things that don't put unnecessary pressure on me; like spending time with people I love, meeting people who inspire me, and continuing to master the creative skills that motivate me. Of course, I still have big dreams and sometimes I say to myself things like, “Damn, I haven't visited all the countries on the planet yet”. But these thoughts give me less anxiety.”

‘If you read this, my ghost will come to haunt you.*
*Unless you send a photo of my grave to five people by midnight!’
– Assia, 33

Line drawing of a tombstone. The headstone on the top reads: “If you read this, my ghost will come to haunt you.*" The bottom of the headstone reads: "*Unless you send a photo of my grave to 5 people by midnight!”

“I used to constantly focus on the future, in terms of saving and building for later. I thought I had to wait for the right moment to do something, but then I realised - the right moment is now. I try to live in the present, enjoy everything, and laugh as much as possible. It may sound immature, but it's actually the opposite. 

I design genderless clothing for a living, and I’ve always dreamed of becoming a fashion star. I used to want to achieve this at all costs: I regularly sacrificed my health, and my social life, for projects. But now I’m older, I put things into perspective much more - I work on it a little every day, but still enjoy my life.

I want to have an impact on the lives of others - that’s what my gravestone represents. Even after my death, I hope I’ll still interact with people. If you were walking around a cemetery and I made you laugh from the depths of the afterlife, my mission is complete. 

Besides, I’ve often been inspired by artists after discovering their work posthumously. When you feel an emotion provoked by a song, a photo, a sculpture, for me, you’re connecting with the artist - more than their work.”