May 24, 2019 Beyond The Dash

Exploring "The Dash" by Linda Ellis

A look at the popular funeral poem

Carpe diem means "seize the day" - are you making the most of your dash? (Shutterstock)

Did you know Beyond the Dash's name is a literary reference?

Linda Ellis wrote "The Dash" in one afternoon in 1996. The 36 lines have since come to comprise a most beloved modern funeral poem. "The Dash" has become a memorial service staple that thousands of families recite each year when burying their dead. Today we are exploring Linda Ellis' death positive poem-"The Dash."

Analyzing "The Dash"

"The Dash" is written in first-person by a speaker who "read of a man who stood to speak at a funeral of a friend" (Lines 1-2). This eulogist offers a funeral congregation wisdom on matters of life and death:

He noted that first came the date of birth

And spoke of the following date with tears,

But he said what mattered most of all

Was the dash between those years. (5-8)

The line between a person's birth and death dates on their tombstone represents the entire life they lived. Ultimately, what really matters is compressed into one tiny line. That dash represents the time we spend doing what we love in life. It's not about "how much we own, the cars...the house...the cash" (13-14). Doing activities that you enjoy, going on adventures and spending time with family and friends, are what really matter at the end of your life.

When confronted with grief, and the threat of your own demise, difficult questions arise:

  • Am I living my life to its fullest?

  • Am I doing my best?

  • Would I be satisfied with my legacy on earth if I were to die tomorrow?

The speaker urges the reader to remember to show appreciation, respect and love as readily as possible, "remembering that this special dash might only last a little while" (31-32).

The "Dash" is effectively a big carpe diem to readers. Ellis reminds us that death is inevitable, and it can come at any time. In spite of that inevitability, there are opportunities to make the most of life.

There are no guarantees that anyone will live to retirement age, or have enough time for that one last apology. It's also a warning not to squander the time we have in life. There is no second chance, so it's important to remember to live life to the fullest.

At the end of "The Dash," these questions are asked of the reader in the form of a challenge: "would you be proud of the things they say about how you spent your dash?" (35-36).

Your story is still being written

It's easy to see where this poem's explosive popularity originates. These are questions and thoughts that many people have during or around a funeral. When loss occurs, it's hard to see meaning in life. Remember that your dash is still in the making, and you have the chance to control your story-now.

We wanted to create a community for those who find catharsis in telling their loved ones' life stories. Writing can be healing. If you are still troubled by a loss, writing about the person's achievements, character and relationships is a meaningful way of putting their life into perspective.

Beyond the Dash is a digital space for families and loved ones to remember the dashes of precious loved ones who have passed away. Whether or not the death was recent, it's always appropriate to share the story of a person who made an impact on you. Once your story is published online, you can share it with family and friends, and invite these loved ones to contribute photos and memories to the growing digital memorial.

Thinking of someone? Create a free obituary on Beyond the Dash today.

Create an Obituary

Your loved one had a remarkable life. Tell their story, and we’ll publish it online for free.

After creating an online memorial, you can also publish in print in any of over 6,000 newspapers across North America.

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