First Time Eulogist

This is a repost blog.

Original posts by janey47 on Ask Metafilter, reproduced by permission of the author.

4 Nov 2013: First time Eulogist. Helpful hints?

A very very dear friend died unexpectedly recently and I have been asked by the family to be among the non-family members who will speak at his memorial service. I’ve only ever spoken at my mother’s memorial service, and I cheated by reading her favorite psalm. I know some things to do and some not to do, but I think I need more thoughts from the hivemind.

The family has broken up the service with speakers from various times in his life, which I only found out quite recently — until I saw the program I was floundering around feeling like an imposter because I’ve only known him 6 years.

I have two readings, one quite short from a book he loved (we shared a love of books that had far-reaching consequences), and one somewhat longer. The longer one is Mary Oliver’s poem When Death Comes,” which to me really describes how my friend lived his life — like a bride married to amazement, like a bridegroom taking the world into his arms.

I’m not very good at public speaking, although I’m pretty good at talking about grief and loss on a one-on-one basis.

I know certain wise rules, such as: write it down, practice, speak from the heart, don’t ramble, don’t lie, be appropriate.

But we’re having the memorial service at a (very large) bar & restaurant, and he and I met at another bar/restaurant where the service/wake will continue after the main event. So I think that “appropriate” can be a little less reverent than is often the case. Like when I told him last year I was trying to work on a six-pack for my abs, and he said I’m working on a keg.” I bet that’s not original but he’s the only person I ever heard say it. I kind of want to mention it in this crowd.

I think my problem here is that I don’t know what words to glue the readings together with. I’m obviously not telling people who he was or what he was like, because half the people there will have known him for decades. I’m really only saying what he meant to me in the thought that by expressing what I feel I might sort of express for someone else the feelings they haven’t put words to. But I don’t know whether what I feel is even applicable to most people.

Whenever someone is suffering with grief, I always compare grief/loss to two things. The first is a scar. A scar comes from a wound that is deeply painful for a long time, and which eventually, after the course of some time, stops being painful and starts being a simple reminder of something past. It will always be a reminder of pain, but it might not itself hurt eventually. But (and this is the second thing I always talk about) great love means great grief. Only the people who avoid love can avoid grief. So often when my younger friends are struggling to stop feeling grief over a lost relationship, I tell them that I wouldn’t think they were human if they didn’t hurt over a lost love. And that’s the kind of thing I’m telling myself now — that for all the pain his loss brings me, I wouldn’t consider, even for an instant, trading it for a life in which this pain didn’t exist because I didn’t know and love him.

So I don’t know if that’s just really off, or if that’s the kind of thing you can say at a memorial service without sounding condescending or self-righteous.

And the most important memories I have of him, if I have to single out a few as being really essential, were moments in the last couple of days of his life, or the gentleness with which he took his last breath. And THAT I don’t think anyone wants to hear about. I talk about death way too much already.

Plus I come from a Buddhist perspective, and he totally embodied this Buddhist notions of lovingkindness, sympathetic joy, equanimity, and compassion, and he really fully lived every moment, without having to practice meditation in order to get there. But I don’t know my audience at all, and I don’t know whether it’s even appropriate to say anything like that.

I think I’m caught between not wanting to say things that are so specific to me that other people would be offended or bored, versus not wanting so say things that are so obvious that other people will be bored — or that others will have already said in the service.

Can you help me with (a) ways to think about what I’m doing to free my mind to compose this, (b) hints about being one speaker out of many at a memorial service, and (c) whether Mary Oliver is too pedestrian for a memorial service (some of his family members are insanely brilliant and they have an inflated view of my intelligence because my friend thought so highly of me, and I don’t want them to be rolling their eyes while I speak), and (d) anything you think, based on what I’ve written, would be helpful to me.

Thanks so much for your help.

11 November 2013: Thank you all so much - AskMe update

Last week, I asked this question. I really was freaking out and sure I was going to screw it up. The memorial service was Friday, and my remarks were extremely well received.

After each speaker there was applause. When I finished speaking, I immediately thought that the applause was louder than before, but it went through my head that it probably was because I was facing the applause. Then I heard family members hooting, so I realized that, yes, it was very well received. My boyfriend told me that everyone at our table was crying and he was pretty sure everyone in the room was crying.

Afterwards, I was absolutely bombarded with people thanking me and complimenting me and asking me if I were a writer and telling me I should be a writer. One of Tim’s brothers told me that I’d made them all cry and several of the family members told me they loved the poem, so all my worries were for naught. Also, I have admired one of my friend’s sisters-in-law for many years, even before I knew my friend, and she made a point of telling me that I did a wonderful job, which means so much coming from her.

Thanks to everyone for helping me structure my thoughts and form my little talk, and for being supportive while I was freaking out.



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The text of Mary Oliver’s poem When Death Comes’ is available here.

October 11, 2023