Ancestral energy lives in the stars above us, the stones beneath us. Their memory gathers in oceans, rivers and seas. It hums its silent wisdom within the body of every tree.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Thoughts on Crafting a Eulogy

When my Grandpa died, I couldn’t have known that I would later regret not speaking at his funeral. I had so many wonderful stories of him I could have told, if I could have conveyed them in my grief. I couldn’t have. I am often at a loss for words in the moment, too caught up in the ‘feels’…which, as a writer, I find wryly amusing.
I wouldn’t have been able to do my thoughts and feelings for him justice, but the idea of speaking of and for the dead has become important over the years to the ancestral work that I do. It’s about being in service to something greater than my grief. It’s about being in service to love.
Love is where we find the courage to stand in our grief, to put words to the truth of how the world is now, without our loved ones. How we dispose of the bodies of our beloved dead is about honoring both their memory and the physical temple they inhabited, as well as honoring their wishes for its end.
The funerals we hold for the dead are often designed with them in mind. If they had a specific practice, it will likely be a service of their spirituality or religion, and we the living are welcome to share in that space. It’s where those who are left without the dead are allowed to remember them. It’s part of our process of accepting the transition of death as it applies to our own lives. And I believe that it’s meant to serve the living more than it’s meant to honor the dead.
I have thought back often to my Grandpa’s service, and the poor retired minister who fumbled through every Old Testament story in the Bible and couldn’t remember the dead man’s name. What would my Grandpa have wanted to say? What would he have wanted people to take away from the last time they would gather in his honor?
How would he have wanted to be remembered? How should he have been remembered? How could I have been to bridge to convey that? How can I do that in the future?
But here’s my, this-should-be-common-sense disclaimer: I say that the service, the memorial, the wake… those are all things for those of us left behind. But it is still sacred space. It is still a place of honor and truth and love. The eulogy is not space to air dirty laundry.
You have to be compassionate for the grief of everyone who gathers. But keep it real. Don’t pretend you were close if you weren’t. But, for example, when my good friend lost his father suddenly, it was bittersweet. They had been estranged for some time. After years of being close, his father developed an issue with his sexual orientation, spiritual practices, and food preferences. I sat at that funeral to support him as he stood to speak, the only son of the deceased man.
He was beautiful. He was honest that he and his father had not been on good terms when he died. And then he brought up the good times with his father, the memories he would cherish from his formative years. And I watched him express grief that they had lost the chance to find their way back to being father and son. It was honest and sweet and I know his pragmatic father would have nodded his head and thought it was truly and fairly shared. I have never been more proud of him, or that friendship.
It’s stayed with me over the years. There is a way to be kind and truthful. There is a way to speak from your heart and paint a human picture, rather than the nondescript way the minister spoke of death at my Grandpa’s funeral. It was death that brought us there, yes. But it was our love of my Grandpa, and the fact that it was his death that made us come together.
In a file on my computer, I have started writing down thoughts about my beloved family and friends. I review them every year around Samhain, changing and adding stories as my relationships with them change, as I grow older and more reflective. I know some people will think my stating that I have been working on eulogies for my family members, who are nowhere near death, sounds morbid.
But it’s not. Sure, it reminds me of mortality. It also reminds me to love while I am alive and able to do so. Revisiting old stories reminds me what it is about my friends and family that I love.
Here are some of the prompts I used as I sat down to write. They were little bursts of inspiration that shaped the stories I decided to tell. These thoughts and prompts are meant to convey their character, as well as, in theory, allow me to heal by revisiting who they were to me- to me and everyone else who will grieve them. May it be many, many years before I have need of my words.
  • At what point in your life did you meet the deceased?
  • What was your first impression of them? How was that impression cemented? Or how was that impression proved false?
  • How long have you known them?
  • In what ways did they make your life better or brighter?
  • What pieces of advice did they give you?
  • What struggles did you see them overcome? What truths about their character did you learn about them?
  • What is something you knew about them that other people did not?
  • What are some good deeds they did?
  • What basic principles did they believe in, that they would want you to convey?
  • What important events in people’s lives did they step up to help out with?
  • How can you pay what they taught you forward into the living world? How can all of you?
  • What little stories can you share that illustrate any of these thoughts?

What has lived is remembered in our tales and what is remembered, lives on.

1 comment:

  1. I feel like I say this a lot in response to your posts but it's true: this is so beautifully written. I like that you keep a running eulogy for some people. It's not morbid in the least. You want to be honorable toward someone when the day comes that they fall away from the Earth, so it makes perfect sense to have it prepared so that you can let yourself move through those emotions. Just like weddings, I believe that funerals/memorials should be meaningful and reflective of the person/people involved, not a generic service plucked from the annals of services that could be applied to anyone. From your experience with your grandfather's funeral, you can prepare for the future. That is beautiful of you.


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.