Saturday, June 16, 2012

"I wish I'd spoken at my father's funeral"

Here is some great advice on giving eulogies from Olivia Mitchell. As she mentions, you only get one chance to do this, so don't pass it up if at all possible. A professional oration is never expected, but an honest, personal reflection can make a funeral meaningful and healing.
I wish I’d spoken at my father’s funeral
October 26, 2008 by
Olivia Mitchell
Being able to express yourself publicly at important ceremonies and celebrations - funerals, weddings, christenings and birthdays - is one of the greatest gifts.
My father died 10 years ago. I was going to speak at his funeral. But when we arrived at the church all I could see were the distinguished, CEO-looking men in the audience (my father was an international businessman). I felt intimidated and chose not to speak. That’s something I regret.
I’ll never turn down an invitation to give a eulogy again.
Don’t make the same mistake I made at my father’s funeral. If you’re given an opportunity to speak at a funeral or other family celebration, think of your regret if you don’t express yourself and your love for that person. On one side you’ll have your anxiety urging to stay quiet. On the other, you have your love for that person that that you would like to express publicly. Focus on the love, not the anxiety.

Take the pressure offHere is some advice for taking the pressure off yourself as you prepare a eulogy or a speech for a family celebration.
1. You don’t have to provide an outline of their entire life. The best eulogies are a snapshot or series of snapshots of the person’s life. Comprehensive accounts of a person’s life are best left to written tributes and obituaries.
2. You don’t have to do a ton of research or talk to lots of other people. Give your own recollections and your own perspective about the person. In a forum thread on giving a eulogy the most repeated advice was to share your personal memories.
3. You don’t have to lie. Every person has some flaws. Don’t feel you have to avoid them. Be compassionately honest about the person - don’t idealize them. From the eulogy forum thread comes this beautifully written thought:
In the wan light of grief, annoying habits become endearing eccentricities; it feels good to honor the person who really lived, and not some idealized version that never existed.
4. You don’t have to make people laugh. Moments of levity and humour are fine, and even welcome during a funeral service. However, if humour doesn’t come naturally to you, don’t force it. A trivial detail which people can relate to is often all that is required:
The only thing I remember about my grandmother’s eulogy was the priest describing how he could always tell she was in line for the Eucharist, because he could hear the tinkling of the armful of bracelets she perpetually wore. It was such a wonderful detail that it captured so much about her — her faith, her style, her position in her church. It was a lovely detail and I remember how much we all smiled and laughed when the priest said it — a bit of joy in the midst of our grief.
5. You don’t have to get it exactly right. The exact words that you use and whether they come out right or not - is not important. This is not a business presentation. Nobody’s taking notes.
6. You don’t have to have a complicated structure. Here’s an easy formula for your eulogy or speech. Think of three qualities the person has. Talk about each quality with a short story or anecdote to illustrate each one.

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Funeral service faces a crisis of relevance, and I am passionate about keeping the best traditions of service alive while adapting to the changing needs of families. Feel free to contact me with questions, or to share your thoughts on funeral service, ritual, and memorialization.