On Funerals and Eulogies

I attended the memorial service of my old boss recently.

It had been many years since I was in his employ and many more since we’d seen each other.  But I’d heard of his passing due to some form of unmentionable cancer and some of my family members who also worked with him in our family’s former advertising business were making the trek into town to pay their last respects.  My presence would have gone unnoticed but I would be nice to have the family together again, even for the day, and I knew it would be a big event in town as he was well known, highly networked and therefore, he would likely be eulogized by some very important people.  Admittedly, I attended more out of curiosity than grief but I checked that at the door. Or at least I thought I had.

My family and I arrived at the catholic church that afternoon having parked our modest cars amongst the lot of luxury vehicles.  Former senators,  governors and other movers and shakers from one of the most vibrant eras of Las Vegas flanked our stride but here, all in black, eerily, we were equals.  It was a poignant reminder.

The Who’s Who crowd was capacity. Standing room only.  I remember thinking about when I used to ponder the question of who would come to my funeral one day, my passing would never command such an audience.  And that was merely the beginning of many epiphanies that would come to me during the hour-long event.

As happens with weddings and funerals, I’d taken notice of several people from my very distant past who were in attendance.  It had been decades since I’d seen most and it was easy to cherry pick the few to whom those years had obviously been kinder.  Many others had weathered the storms of life the past thirty years so poorly, they were  beyond recognition.  I’m pretty sure more than one of them had that very afternoon asked themselves if they were next.

The single sheet agenda promised an interesting selection of eulogizers. Those who’d made the cut were to be undoubtedly fascinating and articulate.

During the opening compulsory exercises, I silently recalled wondering whether a church was an appropriate place for the deceased’s closing ceremonies.  After all, he never seemed the church-going type. But then isn’t that how we do it?  And with that thought, my mind had begun one of my greatest journeys

They were funny. They were memorable. They recalled the best and the most embarrassing times of his life. The crowd laughed on cue and feigned a tears at the appropriately synchronized moments. It was a nice show.

But as If I were a society page critic sent to cover the event, I couldn’t help but ask the questions that, clearly, nobody wanted to answer.  Were these closing remarks accurate representations of the entirety of my former boss’ life?  Moreover, would they be the choices of the deceased if he’d had the forethought to write his own eulogy?

It was at that point that I began my own.  I’d stumbled on what turned out to be the most cathartic writing of my life to date.

I wrote my own eulogy.

Now, of course, my document is already signed and sealed, complete with cues for the playing of what’s become my life theme song, Life Means So Much, by Christian artist/songwriter, Chris Rice. In fact, if you’re so inclined, now would be a good time to look it up and download it on your smartphone and press play.  I’ll give you a minute.

Writing my own eulogy at first seemed like a pretty morbid exercise, the idea of which was birthed at an equally morbid time.  But as a a momentarily  inspired musician or a painter with canvas at sunset, I was compelled to think in sentences and having said my goodbyes to those distant friends and family at the service, I rushed home and powered up my computer.

What emerged through my fingers that evening and late into the night provided me with a kind of freedom I’m not sure I could genuinely describe.  The details of my document, now folded and sealed for revelation on that glorious day that I meet my Maker, are my secret to keep until that day.  If you’re intrigued enough by now, let me extend a sincere invitation to my own memorial service.  Watch your local listings for details.

Suffice to say, writing my own eulogy helped me to like the person I’d become.  The exercise was beautifully honest.  I figured “Hell, I’m dead. Who do I need to impress? Why hold back anything?”

There’s no handbook for such a project but to tell those who remain the kind of man I really was…not the trumped up version certain family members and friends might script for the hungry audience, if indeed there is one.

I have been through quite a lot in my life to date.  There are many very memorable and wonderful things in my experience of 52 years. Likewise, there are many very horrible things that have happened.  I acknowledged each as I wrote, but still, I thought, I’m missing something.

I had no deathbed confessions to write.

Sure, there were some relationships I’d wished had been healed.  God knows I had tried.  There were a slew of  previously shameful experiences I had long since reconciled with others and my God.  Through my recovery from drug addiction and subsequent personal reflection, I’d done my big work.  I realized then that  I was writing no cliffhanger.  No season finale loaded with twists, turns and surprise character revelations.

When I had finished, I knew I had finished. No more words would come.  In fact, I don’t recall even going back to edit or spell check. (I have never used spell check and I’m proud of the fact.)

Rest In Peace was quite apparently now something within my reach.  This was comforting beyond words.

As I sealed the envelope, prepared to give it to my sister for safekeeping until that day of (spoiler alert)

Not-So-Exciting-Revelation, I realized I was ready to die.

Not that I necessarily wanted to die, but was ready for the event whether that night or many years to come.

There’s an extraordinarily therapeutic value in writing one’s own eulogy.  If you dare to be honest with yourself, it can be the story of a lifetime, quite literally, that cleanses your soul and flags any remaining tasks to finish up.

We don’t know the hour or the day.  I don’t think my ex-boss knew when his day would come exactly.  But knowing him pretty well, I think he was self-centered enough that he would have wanted the last word that day.

For me, I decided I didn’t want to leave that task to others to formulate for me during what would probably be the most difficult time to write something so important.

I highly recommend it.