How To Write A Parent’s Eulogy

Some of the best advice I was given when my father was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer was to write his eulogy while he was alive. Horrified at first, I took a breath and thought about it. Why was I so upset by this advice? My initial reaction was superstitious — I thought writing about his death while he was alive was in some way wishing him dead or hastening his death. Then I came to my senses and realized I could no more hasten his death than slow it down. In fact I was powerless over his demise. The one thing I could do, though, was to send him off with honor and dignity and love.

The person who suggested eulogy writing in advance made a great point. Immediately after my father’s death I was likely going to be much too upset to do justice to writing his story. That was absolutely true. I would not have been able to write what I wanted to say if I waited until he died.

So I wrote the eulogy my father deserved to have delivered. What makes a good eulogy? Here’s my advice in list form:

1. Consider the small things that made your parent’s life compelling. Tell a story or two about your parent that most of the attendees to the funeral don’t know. Don’t just talk about what he or she did for a living; describe what made his or her life matter.

2. Share a personal memory. Did your mom teach you how to hit a baseball or how to cook or how to change the washer in a faucet? Did your dad teach you how to drive, thereby risking his own life? Did he go to every store in town to buy you the Barbie doll  you most wanted for your 7th birthday only to come home with three because he didn’t know there would be more than one to pick from?

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Share something only you shared with your parent. That will give people an insight into the person they came to honor in a way only you can provide.

3. Describe some family history. People come to a funeral to show respect. It’s always interesting and respectful to give a nod to those who came before in your family. Where did his or her parents hail from? What was your parent’s childhood like? Family tree information is fascinating background.

4. Don’t dwell on the saddest parts. Your parent’s death may have come too soon or been really awful for the family or for you but your parent’s life is so much more than his or her death. This passing hurts you now but with time you will be able to remember your parent and feel good in that memory. Imagine one of the memories you know will make you smile in the future and focus on describing that time.

5. Speak from the heart but read the eulogy, don’t wing it. Write exactly what you want to say. Don’t worry about being articulate or using just the right words. Say what you feel and write it down. Then read it aloud several times before the service. You will likely be nervous and perhaps overcome with emotion but practicing what you will say will help. If you cry, so be it. Everyone will understand. Take your time. Read slowly and don’t look up if you think that might throw you off.

6. Don’t worry about what the audience will think. Speak about your parent in a way he or she would appreciate. At a funeral I attended recently, the family members spoke about the loved one’s sense of humor. They said things that would have made him laugh. Some attendees laughed along with the family. Some were aghast at “joking” at a funeral. But the family knew the most important attendee would have loved it. That’s what matters.

30 Reasons To Be Grateful You’re Alive

If you haven’t yet read Sheryl Sandberg’s ode to mourning, you’re in for a life-affirming treat. That sounds perverse, I know, but here’s the thing — if you’re truly grateful for your life and the lives of those you love, maybe you don’t fear death quite so much.

Here’s a piece of what she wrote about grieving  the abrupt loss of her husband if you don’t have time to read her whole post. (I strongly suggest you find the five minutes it will take you to improve your outlook on life.)

I think when tragedy occurs, it presents a choice. You can give in to the void, the emptiness that fills your heart, your lungs, constricts your ability to think or even breathe. Or you can try to find meaning. These past thirty days, I have spent many of my moments lost in that void. And I know that many future moments will be consumed by the vast emptiness as well. 

But when I can, I want to choose life and meaning.

Choose life and meaning…if you have trouble with that, in tribute to the 30 days Sandberg thought about this, here are 30 things (in the most random order imaginable)  you can ponder to choose life and meaning. You may not have all 30 in your life but I’m giving you enough to get started with at least 10! If you have 10 things to be grateful for, life is pretty much worth enjoying.

1. You’re reading this. Consider the joy, the news, the advice, the sheer pleasure you get from  absorbing information through the written word.

2. This.

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It’s just a flower I came across one day but seriously, if this doesn’t give you gratitude for the little things, there is something wrong with you.

3. Moments are just that — moments. They pass so the bad ones will not last forever. That should make anyone having a bad day a bit happier. Time passes but it takes time.

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4. You may have people in your life who can move your shoes. Yesterday my daughter moved to a new home. Today she gave a shout out to her friends, family and loved ones who helped her with the enormous task of moving her shoes. If you saw her shoe collection, you’d understand the depth of her gratitude. If you have people who can move your shoes, that’s a reason to give thanks.

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5. You can always make someone smile. Smile at the next five strangers you pass. At least one will smile back and in that moment, you’ll both feel pretty good about life.

6. You can ask for help. If you are one of the lucky people who feels comfortable asking for help that will make your life a great deal easier.

7. Stories to read. Literature to love.

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8. You are vulnerable. You get hurt. Why should this make you grateful? Because if you feel pain, you understand what it means to feel better and you appreciate it when it happens.

9. You have a birthday. You get a day to celebrate yourself. Do it! Let others do it! I know people who say birthdays are no big deal and they want no fuss made about them. Are you kidding me? You were born and you’re still here, throw a freaking party!

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10. You’re a communicator. If you’re reading this chances are you also write, or at least speak. Communicating is the beginning of understanding and with that comes clarity of what the world is all about.

11. You have virtual people. Maybe your people can’t move your shoes but they can stir your soul with the words they send out into the blogosphere and those words reach you. If you have ever read a blog post that resonated with you, be grateful. It’s a connection you made.

12. You can do some good in some way. From opening the door for a person who’s carrying a heavy load (literally and/or figuratively) to volunteering your time delivering meals to shut-ins, you can help others. That’s a gift to you and to the world. Do some good. I know a woman who doesn’t leave her house much but she counsels people online as a volunteer. She doesn’t let being mostly house bound keep her from doing good in the world.

13. People are social animals. It’s a good thing.

14. Beauty exists. You get to be the judge. Seek it out. Seriously, stop right now and look around you until you find one beautiful thing. It’ll likely take you just seconds and you can do this anytime you need a lift. Beauty is limitless and so is your ability to find it.

15. You can cry. It’s a release that enables you to feel better. Being capable of crying is no small matter,

16. You never really lose people you loved. Your relationship may change or even end but you have them with you always.

17. That.

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18. Love is in the air somewhere.

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19. Romantic love isn’t the only game in town. Just because you may not currently be in a relationship doesn’t mean you can’t have love in your life. Your parents, your kids, your friends, your pets, even your coworkers may be lovable. Love is what matters, not what kind of love or with whom it happens.

20. Good, multigrain, fresh crusty bread dipped in olive oil…..

Food, from the most simple to the most complex is something you can enjoy. If you have a healthy relationship with food, it’s okay to derive joy from it.

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21. You can dream. Humans dream in sleep and while waking. Sleep dreams may bring you messages worth paying attention to. Waking dreams are those you choose to have because they lift you up and give you hope. Cherish both kinds of dreams and listen to what they tell you because you can.

22. Life doesn’t have to make sense. That’s okay. Don’t make yourself crazy trying to figure it out. You can choose to move on instead.

23. Poetry lives. Few words can be so healing, so embracing, so motivating…

“Let everything happen to you
Beauty and terror
Just keep going
No feeling is final”
Enjoy every moment.”
― Rainer Maria Rilke

24. When the rug is pulled out from under you, the floor beneath will support you. When you feel ready, you will stand up. That’s how life works. Believe in your ability to stand when ready…

25. Music… just… music… well and lyrics… watch this (enjoying the time warp trip to 1969) and you’ll know…

26. The Buddhists are right. (I paraphrase here, I haven’t actually met the Buddha.) Live inside each moment to the fullest extent you can. The key there is “you can.” Some moments make it easy to live fully. Some moments make it hard but you can choose, you have the power to live each moment the way you want, even in circumstances beyond your control. You can’t change everything but you can control the way you react to anything.

27. Sometimes things in your life are seriously not okay. That doesn’t mean they won’t be again. Knowing that helps get you to that better time.

28. This:

Random encounter I had while taking a walk. Random encounters make life worth having.

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29. That:

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Art of all kinds waiting unexpectedly around the corner.

30. Look in a mirror. Be grateful for whatever you see.

Feel free to share. Spread the reasons to be grateful with anyone who needs a lift.