Many years ago, a friend decided she wanted to become a civil celebrant, a change of career direction if you like. She liked the idea of marrying people and being a part of the joyous day. She enrolled, did all the required work by the state until she hit a snag. To be a celebrant also meant officiating at funerals, an idea that she didn’t fancy. And one of the tasks she had to complete during the course was to write her own eulogy. Two in fact. One for the present moment and one for her future (hopefully) aged self.
This proved to be quite a confronting concept, and one that all of us as her friends shared. We read what she had written, nodded, laughed at some of the humour and inwardly wondered what we would say about ourselves and, of course, what others would say over our mortal remains. It proved to be a time of deep reflection and imagination mixed with wishful thinking, challenging our perception of ourselves.
The word eulogy comes from Greek, meaning good words, and at thousands of funerals around the country, good words are indeed being spoken at this moment. But what does that entail?
Do we lie about the bastard of a person lying in the coffin? The abuser, the cheater, the alcoholic to name a few labels to the detriment of the person. Or do we focus on the good as the Greeks so kindly enunciated thousands of years ago? After all, they gave us the word diplomacy, to cover being sensitive and tactful in our dealings in life, not just in politics.
One of the difficulties in writing and delivering a eulogy is that you cannot cover all the nuances of a person’s life in a short speech. Some bits are bound to be left out just as some emphasis can be placed on details that elude some of the mourners. Haven’t many of us been to funerals thinking we knew that person fairly well, only to leave the service finding new information about the deceased that we never knew at all. We chastise ourselves and shake our heads wishing, perhaps, that we had paid greater attention to them when they were alive.
What would we say in our own eulogy? Would we be frank, would we lay our mistakes out in front, or present a glossy Instagram version of our lives, airbrushed and all. Shakespeare claimed through the character of Macbeth, that our lives are “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”.
There are days when probably all of us think that about our lives, the existential questions about meaning and purpose, infiltrating our consciousness, questioning our worth. But we do signify something.
And we do utter good words at funerals, not so much for the dead but for the living who are there to celebrate and commiserate over their loved one? In writing the eulogy, we find a balance between the rawness of all our lives and the intent that most of us have to live a good life, a life of integrity and love. Sometimes we miss the mark but hope our family and friends forgive us, tolerate us and love us.
Perhaps the best thing to do is to have a living wake, a huge party months or years before we die to say thank you to all our friends and family for putting up with us, for seeing the good in us, the humanness of all of us.
Have you ever thought about your own eulogy? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below?