Eulogy for Both my Parents
The two most important speeches I ever gave was the eulogy for both my parents. Before you quit reading this as you think it will be depressing, stay with me. In my background as a professional musician, I have performed music at literally hundreds of weddings. Lavish weddings, some a bit outlandish. All are happy occasions, at least at the outset.
But they are no match for what can happen in a memorial service. The celebration that occurs for a well-lived life is impactful and draws friends and families together. Both my husband, Greg, and I did the eulogy for our mothers and fathers and we feel the same emotion--it was an honor.
Where do you Start?
So where do you start when planning a eulogy? As I have also been a part of many, many funerals and memorial services, there are different approaches and I’m going to cover some ideas in this article that will give you some direction. You don’t have to be at a loss and just state the facts of a life—birth, children, main events, date of death. Boring!
Instead, I’d love you to start thinking now about taking a different approach which is creating a story. For those at halftime, (see: How do You Know You’re at Halftime?) it is not too early to start gathering bits and pieces of memories! You may think you’ll remember everything, but when the time comes, it’s busy, a bit stressful and there are so many decisions to make in the midst of elevated emotions. We will talk about three things here to help you put your plan together. First, document memories; second, interview friends and family and third, focus on the deceased and attendees. In other words, it’s all about them, not you.
One: Document Memories
I started keeping index cards in my purse some years ago. Yes, I’m a pen and paper girl and I knew unless I wrote things down, little facts and details would be gone. When my dad started telling me about the time he and his brother played a trick on their younger brother, nailing the outhouse shut from the outside, then setting it on fire I wrote it down! Apparently, this uncle of mine was constantly escaping to the outhouse to skip out on milking cows! I don’t think he ever tried that again!
When my mom told me about the pet pig she raised, then sold it for a whopping $5, I wrote it down! She basically had nothing growing up and this was a huge windfall for her. I had forgotten about many of those little snippets of information I had until I went to write the eulogy and what a joy it was to add life and a bit of humor when honoring my parents. I was also able to create a chronological story of their life with details that many attendees never got to see.
Greg grew up in a home where his parents constantly played musical theatre albums, so we performed a medley of Oklahoma the Musical (his parents were from Oklahoma!) as well as a couple other standards that were meaningful to his family. This was placed in the middle of his eulogy and it was entirely appropriate! Of course, he had a wife (me!) that could put the medley together and perform it, but there are many musicians who can do this for you. Just ask!
It’s all about the story you re-create about those you care for. Record the chronological events of their life and document it with a little creativity and even fun. You are creating new memories for yourself as well as attendees!
Two: Interview Friends and Family
One thing Greg did that worked really well was to look up friends of his parents who were still living. He even found several local high school colleagues to gather a few missing pieces of his parent’s lives—especially his mother who was a cheerleader but dropped out of school her senior year, getting her degree in a trade school. By including a few of their stories, those friends that attended felt a part of the celebration. In both our parent’s celebrations we also included a video or slide presentation including many photos of family and friends. This can be made available after the service to those who may not be able to attend by posting it on YouTube. (see Buy Back the Years I created for my family!)
Something I had available were old news articles of my father. He had been an incremental part in fighting a major oil fire in southern California that was so hot it melted part of their fire engine. I knew a whole crew of L.A. firemen were going to show up to the memorial service with their engines and felt it was important to include that story, even though it was a bit lengthy. They sat in the back row of the crowded chapel just in case they had an unexpected call, but I could see their keen attentiveness. I found out later many of the grandkids in attendance knew nothing about my father’s act of bravery, so again, this created a wonderful memory as a part of my dad’s life’s story.
Three: Focus on the Deceased and Attendees
It’s easy to be self-focused and conscious of our own performance in performing a eulogy, but it’s not about us. We are giving others a chance to enter in on the story of a life and experience closure with a celebration. Even if there were ill feelings towards the deceased, it’s not time to slam them or anyone else in attendance. There may be some instances where it’s difficult to think of anything good to say, but those instances are very rare.
The overall mood should be honoring a life and celebration. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, but if you focus on creating a story with a beginning, middle and end with a few pivotal events, you will be well on your way. With a few extra interviews, some music or even photos and videos, you will have a wonderful event well-worth producing. This can even happen in a luncheon or dinner.
Preparing a eulogy also helps in the grieving process. Focusing on the positive, beautiful and even humorous areas of a life is healing and restorative. Every situation and culture is different, but the core principle of honoring a life is the same. The closure a eulogy creates is well-worth the time and investment it takes to create a lasting memory, whether large or very small.
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