Stories Stir the Soul

We landed back in the U.S. late at night, like always. What was not like always was that my brother and his family, who normally reside in Europe, were also in the U.S. Christmas in the U.S. was the goal. All of us. Together. Our trip was to last a month.

Ha. It lasted about 3 or 4 months. A blur of doctor appointments, eye surgery, and stress.

In the late night hours of collapsing back in to bed after a day of it, whatever it was that day, I cracked the pages of a book with a black cover and a bird on the front. I was transported to another world and lost all track of time. It only took me a few days to finish the Hunger Games.

I was enthralled with the story Suzanne Collins wove, reportedly coming up with the idea as she toggled between reality TV survival shows and war coverage. That made sense to me during our re-entry. Her story captured my mind in a period of my life when it was hard to switch off all the details surrounding a one month trip turned 3 month medical leave.

Our daughter wore glasses from the age of 3 1/2 after she woke up one morning with one eye looking directly at her nose. We went to the ER and then a opthalmologist. We patched, we saw doctors, and it was working.

Until it wasn’t working. I hadn’t really noticed how her eyes drifted during our extended time away from the US and US doctors. Looking at pictures now is painful because it is so obvious. But, I didn’t know then.

In Asia, surgery was not as successful so not suggested as an option by the doctors we visited. When our doctor in the US saw us for a routine check up about a week after we landed, he was blunt. Surgery. In a month or two. We left shocked trying to figure out if our friend would let us extend our stay by, oh say, a few months! He did, because he is incredibly generous.

Then, a routine check up for our son got us a 2 day turn around follow-up with a pulmonologist. That’s usually not a good sign. Didn’t expect that or the cystic fibrosis test he did a little while later. It came back negative. Our nerves were a bit shot and our management of his asthma revealed we needed to learn much more. Again, there was a bit of a difference between Asian (manage symptoms) and American (slam that asthma to the ground!) methods.

Then, our youngest kept getting ear infection after ear infection until he got a series of three high-powered and very painful antibiotic shots. He would glow when he was done, our pediatrician told us. He didn’t really glow, but it was a very long time before he got sick again. His persistent baby acne disappeared.

The Hunger Games books were my series in all this, an escape and also an explanation for a rough bout of cross cultural living problems.  I identified with Katniss, feeling disoriented in a world where everyone seemed tatted, colored, or highly styled. Asia was a grey district. America felt like the Capitol.

I’ve read the series through another time or too and still refer to it when I talk about re-entry issues.

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Our shelves contain a dozen or so books on crossing cultures, raising third culture kids, and re-entry. They directly address great things and I refer to them and learn from them. We own many stellar books on spiritual growth and parenting kids too. I read them and recommend them.

But, my secret, which is now not so secret, is a good story. Good fiction, allegory, or memoir makes me feel and discover truth in a way a direct dealing just can’t. Stories let us discover ourselves through others. A good allegory like Hinds Feet on Hind Places can pull together half a dozen spiritual truths lurking in the sidelines of my conscious mind and connect my emotions too.

I just finished a weird selection even for me, Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan. It’s cool. I feel cooler because I read it. My vocabulary now holds the option of some surf jargon if I want to look like a complete idiot. I still don’t understand surfing.

img_6782But the book was about surfing as much as it was about life, writing, and facing ourselves. The waves he described and his experience with them transcend surfing. It was a fascinatingly well written memoir and got me motivated to keep living my life and keep writing.

Not bad for a story. Now I need to find another one. My bedside table is never empty, but it doesn’t always have a truly good book to turn to when the sun goes down and that’s a pity.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Priming the Pump

My husband is a mechanical sort. So was my dad. I know just enough from listening to them talk to make wild assumptions on what is wrong with machines. Most often I jump directly to worst case scenario. I get the feeling that is not particularly endearing to some, ahem, my husband.

Like the time we returned to our assignment in Asia after a 6 month absence. Our cute orange car waited 6 months for us parked outside. Friends cleaned it a time or two and started it a time or two, but it was lonely.

Our first morning back I headed to the car to go and stock our bare fridge and cupboards. The engine turned over, and over, and over, and over…and didn’t start. I gassed it and tried again and again. Our car was dead, I knew it. Stone cold dead.

I also knew just enough to know that maybe stepping on the gas repeatedly could flood the engine and undermine my efforts to bring Orangey back to life. I laid off, took a breath, and eventually got to the grocery store.

So, here I am years later trying to write again after months of upheaval and absence from my blog and not writing. I primed the pump last week at the library by checking out books on writing like Stephen King’s book On Writing which I stumbled across in the stacks.

I took it as a sign that it was time to try and begin again.

 Plus, I heard it was good. Stephen King’s writing is not my genre by a long stretch. But, his book On Writing is more my style and quite a fascinating and humorous read so far.

I checked out another on the craft of memoir writing. I haven’t cracked it yet. It sounds too serious, a little more ambitious than I’m ready to read.

My library trip and a couple short editing projects, and I felt a bit of the spark of desire to write again. It felt good. Like a visit with an old, familiar friend. Like unpacking a box and remembering a beloved object not seen for years.

I started to feel ready to write again.

Plus, an automated woman from wordpress called and warned me to pay up or I’d lose my domain. I didn’t pay up soon enough. I lost it and now must pay a fine for my procrastination. But, something about a call from wordpress made me think about writing again.

Like a kick in the pants.

I remember paying for my domain name last year. It was a huge step for me to put money towards writing. I was so serious about it. I realize I don’t want to pack up my love for writing.

So, here I am writing…