Writing a Eulogy

Who wants to write a eulogy? Probably no one. Eulogies are written when someone dies. Writing one yourself, means someone close to you has recently died. If you are reading this and grieving loss while mustering up the words for a eulogy, I hope you find help here. This is no easy task in such a time. Expressing what your loved ones life meant to you in the midst of such anguish feels impossible, yet necessary too.

I wanted to take on this task when my father died. Really, really wanted to. I write and it seemed a tailor made task for me. And, if you are reading this as you work through writing a eulogy yourself, you understand. Along with grief comes an intense desire to honor the person who died, especially if it was a good, close relationship.

When we knew my dad was dying I tried to start writing. I’d just spent quite a few months with writers honing my raw writing self, but I found myself pioneering new territory. The words wouldn’t come.

A eulogy. For my father. It was a huge, daunting task with a very definite due date.

So, I did what you do these days when you don’t know what to do. I googled “how to write a eulogy.” The people of the world were not super helpful. I noted to myself, there’s not much out there on writing a eulogy. Make it a blog post when you get through it yourself.

 Here it is, a year later. My thoughts on eulogies. This one’s a long one, folks. Grab tea, or coffee, or water… or something. I have stuff to stay about this topic!

What a eulogy is not…

A resume. Though it is appropriate for workplace friends to talk about work, a eulogy is the time when you talk about your relationship with your friend in the workplace. While talking about their accomplishments, make sure you think about what made this person unique. What did they personally add to their field?

A toast. Toasts are for weddings, graduations, and birthdays when everyone is holding a drink in hand. Honestly, a eulogy is like a toast in some ways, but toasts look forward in time and they are directed to one person. A eulogy is for the person giving it and for those mourning. It’s purpose is to honor the person’s life like a toast, but the audience and occasion is different. The purpose is to remember. To miss them together.

A comedy routine. Grief is uncomfortable. It is difficult to deal with and it’s easy to grasp for laughter to avoid feeling the deep pain of loss. I sure did and even while I was laughing about somewhat inappropriate things around the time of my dad’s death, I knew I was “off.” Grief does that and it probably helps observers to know grief does this so they don’t think the grieving are really off their rockers. Well, maybe they are for a time. Anyway, while humor can be an important part of eulogy writing, I feel it cannot be the only part. There must be substance. The humor must go along with the theme in some way.

Dishonest. Sadly, not everyone who dies is missed. I am so thankful that I had so much good to draw from when I wrote my dad’s eulogy. Not everyone has that experience. Those eulogies are the hardest to write and I have not written one. If you cannot give an honest yet tactful eulogy, I advise you pass on trying to give one at all.

What a eulogy is…

Personal. As I wrote my dad’s eulogy, I clung to this word. To write his eulogy successfully, I wanted it to be personal. It was about my dad in our family. And, it was my perspective on his life and our life as a family. No one else that gave a eulogy that day had this perspective. Others gave eulogies about other public aspects of my dad’s life. Only someone from our family could give a eulogy on dad at home. I began thinking about my dad as a father, husband, and grandfather.

Graciously Honest. After I gave my dad’s eulogy, some asked my mom and I if certain parts of my dad’s eulogy were really true. Yes, it was all true. What they were asking about were probably the parts about my dad’s life before he trusted Christ around age 37. My dad was no saint and he wanted people to know how his life changed because of Christ. He told countless people while he was alive. And, he was all for more knowing after he died too.

Around the time my dad died, two families we know lost teenage sons. One to a risky behavior gone awry. Another to suicide. This year a student I work with had 3 friends die from drug overdoses. These are hard things to be honest about in eulogies. One friend from my teenage years died of apparent suicide. I always appreciated what our pastor shared about suicide during his service. Since this was not my experience, I do not know what to say except that an honest, compassionate dealing with reality honors the life of the person who died. It could also stand in the path of death for others.

Purposeful. I knew the biggest impact his life could make before the grave and after, was his faith in Christ passed on to others. My dad was not born Christian. No one is born perfect, all need rescuing from our imperfection. Christ rescued him and he always, always wanted everyone to know. I knew he wanted others to know the God who saves. How can they know God saves if all that is portrayed is a saint? What perfect person needs saving? My dad was no saint and I wanted friends and coworkers to know. My father’s faith in Christ formed the core of most of what I shared in my dad’s eulogy.

If the person you are eulogizing lived their life for a noble cause, you honor them by bringing others into their motivation and purpose. That legacy lives beyond the grave because it flashes in the lives of us left to live for a purpose greater than ourselves as well.

Engaging. I said earlier that eulogies should not be comedy routines. Hopefully, this will not seem contradictory. If there is something you can laugh with your close friends and family about and that would have sparked laughter in your loved one as well, by all means, use it.

Death is sorrowful, yet their lives were not lived only in sorrow. Remember the bright times, the good times in your eulogy. Mourning is remembering and grieving together. We grieve well when we grieve it all, the good and the bad together. So don’t be afraid to laugh and make others laugh with you. Just be very careful with humor. Which brings me to my next point.

Edited. What I mean is that you write every word of your eulogy down, read it out loud, and ask for criticism. Because I mentioned our family in my eulogy, I asked my brother and my mother to read it beforehand. I was prepared to take out anything they were not comfortable with sharing. I read my printed out eulogy during the memorial service and did not stray much from the printed word. I didn’t trust myself in such an emotional time, and I didn’t want to say anything I hadn’t vetted with family.

Timely. If the family asks for a short eulogy, give them what they want. While the service is about their friends, family takes precedence. Don’t dishonor the family’s wishes because you really think you need to share more than what was asked of you. Write down the long version and give it to the family. Give the timely one at the memorial service.

To do this, you must read it through out loud and time yourself. And, you must make every word and anecdote count. This is where editing is of the utmost important. Writing a short, full eulogy is difficult. Hone in on your purpose, save the long version, and start editing ruthlessly for the public version.

The eulogy I wrote for my dad now sits on a shelf in my desk along with a few other things from his memorial service. My 6 year old drew a dinosaur on the back of it during the rest of the service. Dad would’ve gotten a kick out of that picture.

All my efforts to prepare before my dad passed away failed. It was written in the silence between his death and the memorial service. That was the time ordained and it helped me grieve.

Hopefully, you will not have the occasion to give a eulogy, but odds are, you will at some point in your life. The odds increase the closer the relationships you build in your life. As difficult as it is, it means you enjoyed a gift from God in the person you lost.

In the fog and stress of grief, I hope these words help you write your words honoring the gift of God in your life.

Please comment below with anything helpful that I have left out.

 

 

 

The Stir of Hope

Last year, Dad gave us a Christmas tree. Pre-lit, he assured us. We accepted and they hauled it to Florida where we were living just last year.

After Thanksgiving, we opened the box and encountered a hairball of Christmas lights. My husband and I looked at each other. Dad harrumphed and commented, “post lit, I guess.” We laughed and began the task of unsnarling a few layers of Christmas lights that didn’t all light. After figuring out which lights plugged in where, we still noticed a quadrant of the tree was dark. Our oldest touched a strand and, voila! Lights! A Christmas miracle.

I remember Christmas past and I startle at how much can change in just a year. It takes the breath away and leaves me a bit brokenhearted. This Christmas is not what I expected last Christmas.

So much is new. So much is not with me. I don’t know always know where to hang the old memories. They surround me in the form of ornaments from family and friends, nativities from far off places. All symbols of real events and real people that stir up nostalgia for times past.

Hope is the advent focus this week. It’s stirred around in my soul for a few days now. Hope seemed such an ethereal word in the past.

Hope.

Like a wish upon a star. It just went out into oblivion, or so I understood it.

This year, I think about hope and I see hope begin in the past with the promise of One who would come and crush the head of the snake. It continued with One who fulfilled the promise by substituting His death for mine. And, hope stretches strong into the future attached to the One who entered behind the Veil that separated men from God. Jesus.

DSC_0051One day He will come back and put to rights all that is wrong, and there is so much still wrong.

Hope is surer and stronger than I ever knew.

Hope means I can hold joy and sorrow together, because I know there will be a day when the tears will end. It is not today, but I know there is a day. That is enough.

Hope means the future is bright because God promises to never leave or betray His children. I am not alone.

Hope says there is a purpose in and there will be an end to suffering. God does not waste the hard things in my life.

Hope straightens my spiritual spine and lifts my head. Hope says life will not always be like this. Hope extends the offer of joy in the midst of deep sorrow.

Hope is a strong word. It’s a bold, uplifted smile through tears.

Grief, the Uninvited Guest

I have a guest these days. Grief is his name. I did not invite him, but he came and at the worst of times, too.

Grief is a strange beast.  Sometimes I don’t mind him very much and we sit with each other awhile. Other times, I mind him very much, especially when he surprises me in public. I’d prefer he just stay at my home. DSC_0150

I always hope he’ll follow the rules I lined out, but he doesn’t which annoys me. He rarely takes up the guest room but stays in odd places like the shelves of a cabinet, between the pages of a beloved book, or in the smells of familiar food. He’s often in my way when I’m trying to get things done.

He has some shockingly bad habits. He’s a nocturnal sort and has the gall to shake me awake in the night and, then, not let me go back to sleep! He stares me in the face upon waking some days which is a horrendous way to meet the day.

Kind friends come over expecting to meet him, and he is out for the moment. Things are like before, and it’s strange. Then, Grief barges in without knocking. We quickly lay a place setting for him. Then, he doesn’t use the proper utensils if he uses them at all!

If you caught a look at him, you’d know why. Grief is a foreigner. His customs are strange. Though I’ve befriended those with this same house guest, I learned little about how to host him myself. I’m not sure anything can acquaint one so well with grief except a house visit, which no one really wants. But, we all seem to get at some point in our lives.

I get the feeling grief means to stay for a long, long time-maybe forever. I don’t know how I feel about that. Some expect grief to behave, stay for a respectable amount of time, and then depart.  But, as I said, he hasn’t yet followed any rules, even the rules of hospitality.

I’m learning an odd comfort in grief’s companionship. It’d be nice if he paid some rent, though, or helped out a little with the chores. I’d prefer a kickback to the pain in the arse he is from time to time.

My close friends expect grief to stay far longer than I hope he does and seem to welcome him with much more grace than I can afford. I’m afraid grief means to put his name on the deed, and I’ll never be rid of him. I get the feeling that once he comes, he never completely leaves. I also see that others who host grief graciously are ones I respect. I long to learn how to host as they do.

There is one Friend who is with me every moment. He is well acquainted with my house guest having hosted grief himself for a long, long time. He is such a comfort and an excellent help with this added load.

I’m beginning to recognize when other people are hosting grief like I am. So many are these days. Sometimes they don’t want others to know, and hide their guest which I think is a shame. He is a tough one to manage, and I can’t imagine trying to do it alone. I guess I understand. Grief is not the most attractive.

Others host a grief that is so painful and soul crushing, I can only shed tears for how violently he invaded their home. I, too, am at a loss to know what to do with such shocking behavior.

I hope I will not run from my guest or scorn him or shut the door on him. He’s not the type that tolerates that well. In fact, I know he chases those down that try to escape him. He always catches up. It’s better, I hear, to just let him in.

My best Friend says there will be a day when grief will leave. When there are no houses with tears, sorrow, and pain. Everything my Friend says seems to come true, and I believe that day will come.

It’s a great comfort to anticipate such a world, a world without grief.  It helps me deal with today and Grief’s demands with a little more energy.

But, just a little.

Twilight

I rounded the corner in our orange car. Yes, orange. People do strange things in foreign countries like buy orange cars. I sped up in my orange car to merge into traffic. As I met the sight of the hills I saw everyday, a word sank into my heart.

Twilight.

The setting of the sun on a time, a day, an era. We were still living in Asia, but I knew then in my heart, not for much longer. It was the beginning of the end and the knowledge settled warm and uncomfortable in a deep place in my soul.

In the coming weeks and months, time was infused with meaning. Knowing our life in Asia was passing away, we visited people and places to enjoy them, but also to say goodbye.

I tried to remember the roots of the word, “God be with ye” in the moments that felt too final. I wanted normal. I wanted conversation not to revolve around the present, the twilight time, me, but it often did. Such is the reality of saying farewells. They exist in the present. They are personal. They are hard.

Twilight is also the time for good photos, I hear. The light casts warmth and enhances beauty. So it is with the end of things, or it should be. The harsh light softens the edges. The beauty of what was and is and the hope for what will be comes through in twilight.

I wish I always saw people in the glow of twilight, but I don’t. I forget and I focus on the wrong things. I take measure at the wrong time. I’m human. Flawed.IMG_1282

Now, I’m experiencing twilight again with my father. The soft glow of what matters and the ache knowing the sun continues to sent on his life. Feeling and significance infuse normal life with meaning. But the sun keeps setting and the shadows cast longer and there’s no stopping. How I wish I could push pause.

But, life moves on.

Dad and I eat in the roar of a good diner full of people in their own worlds and we in ours. We prepare for the night in this twilight morning. How to walk through widowhood with my mom. We talk about finances and relational anchors and the practicalities of funeral arrangements.

I’m not as frightened by the night of grief and sadness that comes. It weights heavy on my heart as grief is prone to do, but I know morning comes after the night. There is a time for everything. The trouble is not knowing how long is the night.

Grasping at time, as I’m prone to do, exhausts me. Not every moment can drip with significance. Sometimes you have to do the dishes and vacuum the floor. I’m left with the aching experience of living the times and receiving the gift in all its broken beauty.

We call it a severe mercy from time to time.

P.S. There’s a good book by that title, A Severe Mercy. Worth a read.

Death with Death

It’s genius really. Infecting a deadly tumor with another deadly thing and seeing what happens.

60 minutes reported the news coming out of Duke University, and I smiled what I imagined a wry smile. My heart resonated. Fight death with death. The results look amazing. Polio is inciting the body to respond and in the process killing polio infected cancer cells.

A few people with deadly brain tumors are living longer than expected with this treatment. Tumors shrinking. The unstoppable growth is slowed, stopped, and reversed with an injection. A very precise, well-engineered, and tiny injection of a very small amount of polio into cancer cells and life results.

It’s as old as mankind. Brilliant, this discovery that is really an application of an old principle. Death is the antidote to death. It’s simply elegant and I wonder if everyone is sitting back and thinking, “of course it’s this way!”

With my father’s recent diagnosis of a brain tumor, we now know more about brain tumors than we ever wanted to know. What we know about my father’s brain tumor is that it is not the kind tested in this trial. We checked.

It is in more than one place. The tentacles and spiderweb-like appearance on the MRI mean one injection will not reach far enough. Death cannot overcome this tumor this time.

It hurts to long for an effective treatment and to sense that it is just around the corner. But, the corner is far enough away that the race to round it will DSC_0045not be fast enough for us. Others will benefit from the hard work of these scientists. We will not.

We are the ones, like Mary and Martha and so many others, recognizing that Jesus might have come sooner to put off death, but He didn’t this time. He didn’t for us. Why?

I’m left with His words, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me, even if he dies, will live. Everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die–ever. Do you believe this?” John 11:25-26.