This week I had the unfortunate circumstances that required I write a eulogy for my father. I actually volunteered and even though it was something I wanted to do, it was hard and wrenching. It was also cathartic and healing.
Then once I wrote it I had to deliver it. That was no less wrenching or cathartic than writing it.
I thought it might be a good idea to share how I actually got it done without having a nervous breakdown. Maybe this advice could help someone in the future.
You need to set yourself up for the task.
Try to find some uninterrupted time to do it. This is important. You are going to go to some deep places. I recommend that if you have small children, find someone to take care of them. Many people will come forward to offer help, take them up on it. It will make them feel useful and it will give you time to think.
Find a comfortable but secluded place to do it. It will be easier if you can get this done without being self-conscious about the sobbing and ugly crying that will inevitably happen.
Stock your work space with water (or other liquid of your choice), tissues, and waste basket for the aforementioned tissues.
Resign yourself that this may not get done quickly or in one sitting.
Two- Focus and Distill
I found that when I sat down and tried to write, I instantly had way too much material. I wanted to share everything about my dad that I thought made me smile. He was a pretty cool guy. I wanted everyone to know everything I knew. However, that is a tall order for a life that lasted 76 years. I would have been there for weeks.
So you need to focus and distill what you want everyone to know. It’s your tribute. A good starting place is that which brings you the most joy when you think of your loved one.
Once you have that starting point you can break it down with specific examples and stories. Or maybe you want to highlight two or three things that made them great to you. That works too, just support what you are saying with the personal tidbits. A good goal in your descriptions would be to get everyone to see what you see.
Depending on your personality and that of the deceased and your circle of influence, small appropriate snippets of humor can break some tension and drive home a point. My best advice in this area would be to know your audience.
There are several ways you can end a eulogy. It could be with the words of the deceased. It could be with a favorite memory. It could be with some last words directly to the deceased. This is a creative choice and one that should coincide with the rest of what you wrote.
Three- Refine and Deliver
Just like any other piece of writing, the first draft is just the first draft. It needs to be revised and refined. I suggest you take a break and return to it after you’ve gotten some energy back. I found the process draining and exhausting.
Once you have your final draft, make sure you print it out in a large size font for easier reading and to keep from losing your place.
My suggestion for getting up and delivering it is to actually read it instead of memorizing it and to read it over and over again in front of the mirror to desensitize yourself a little bit. This will most likely not keep you from breaking down while in the midst of delivering it but will give you the ability to get through it.
Remember to take breaths and it is okay to pause to collect yourself.
If you do breakdown, forgive yourself, and move on.
There is nothing wrong with having a backup person to read it for you in the event that you can not continue. I would suggest choosing someone further removed from the situation than yourself.
Do your best. There really is no right and wrong here. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be heart felt.
In an act of self-indulgence, I have included the eulogy I wrote for my father, Domenic Maiani, as an example.
My father was sometimes seen as tough, opinionated, stubborn, obstinate, cranky, and was recently described as cantankerous. He, indeed, was all of those things, and those very special qualities have given us a lot of fodder for stories that will keep us laughing for a very long time.
My theory is that it was all a smoke screen so that no one would know what a tender hearted man he really was. He was the most loving and generous man I know. When he loved, he loved with everything he had: his words, his deeds, his energy, his things.
He so deeply loved my mother. I don’t ever remember a day growing up where I didn’t hear him tell her so. She was always his priority. He respected her, valued her, and every ounce of work he ever did was for her. His goal was to make sure that if it was in his power, that she was happy. After 53 years of marriage, they were still laughing and having fun. They still preferred the company of each other over that of anyone else. Even this past week while he was in the hospital, the presence of my mom was the thing that helped him the most. She loved him back in the very same way. They made a great team. It truly was the two of them against the world.
He was equally loving as a father. We were right in line after mom. As always, he gave all that he had. He loved us when he was proud of us and kept loving us if we disappointed him. He loved us even though he thought we were each our own special brand of crazy.
Love was a verb for him and it was in his actions every day. Sometimes it looked like fixing something that was broken or soothing a crying grandchild or pushing scaffolding across a barn floor.
He was an encourager. If we had a dream or a talent, my dad was right behind us. It didn’t matter if it was flying planes, building beautiful things with bricks and dirt and plants, going back to school in your forties, or baking a cake. He was always head cheerleader.
As our family grew by attrition, he accepted and loved those we brought along for the ride. He never treated our spouses as in-laws. Once you were in the family, you were in. You just belonged. Now, he thought that they were all as equally crazy as we were but I do believe he tried to warn them to run like the wind, before it was too late.
He never let up on all that love. I remember about a year or so ago, I stopped in unannounced. When I walked through the door, his face lit up. He was so happy to see me. It made my day and I just kept thinking ‘Here I am at 50 years old and my daddy still loves me.’ It made me feel blessed and privileged that I was his daughter and it made me sad for anyone who has never had the chance to feel that way.
He loved his grandchildren and great-grandchildren the same way. Papa’s babies were special to him. If he was able, he was there. For the 4H shows, the musical performances, the dance recitals, the sporting events and the art shows. Even when he had to sit for hours in pain on some stupid bleachers, in a hot gym, he would do it for them.
He would spend time teaching them things like how to keep a beat to the music, how to grow vegetables, how to build things and how to take them apart.
He would pretty much do whatever they asked whether it was take them to Squires Castle, mud wrestle Oma for charity, or be a member of their bridal party and dance to club music at the reception.
Dad’s love and generosity did not stop with his immediate family though. He was there for many of his extended family and for his friends. He helped build their homes, fix their roofs, fill in with help in their businesses, he loaned whatever he had to loan and always reached out with a helping hand. If you were kind to him, he was kind to you.
Still, he did not stop there. He always welcomed our friends into his home. One of my earliest memories is being in the yard on Greyton Rd. and all the neighbor kids waiting their turn for Mr. Maiani to swing them around and give them an airplane ride. We got older and despite how strict my dad was, or maybe because of it, our friends still flocked to our house, sometimes to our chagrin, to hang out with him and mom. My brother’s friend asked Dad to be his confirmation sponsor. The neighbor kid down the street would come knock on the door and ask, “Can Domenic come out and play?”. No one was ever refused a seat at our dinner table.
His generosity and love extended to the community and strangers as well. One weekend he willingly turned our backyard into a girl scout camp. He was the sheriff at the school fair which combined his disciplinary talents and cranky tendencies quite productively. He helped restore the little red school house in Lyndhurst, and he and mom helped engaged couples through the Pre-Cana program.
He routinely helped strangers- changing tires, digging them out of snow drifts, that sort of thing. Then there was the night with hushed voices in the kitchen. Dad had found two runaway teenage girls at the donut shop in the middle of the night. It was cold and he was worried for their safety. He took a big risk and brought them home. With mom’s help, he kept them warm, fed them, and did everything he could to get them to call their parents. He did this for someone he had never met because he felt they needed to be protected. He did not find this extraordinary, he felt it was just something that was the right thing to do.
In fact, if Dad was here, this moment would be uncomfortable for him. He was not good at accepting compliments, he never thought what he did was very special and it was hard for him to hear that it was. He would try to blow it off and get his tough guy face on.
However, that cantankerous man, for me, is the yard stick by which all other men are judged. And that yardstick is a mile high. To me, a real man is someone who can love like my dad did.
One of the biggest lessons I ever learned from my dad came in the 6th grade. I was home from school for lunch and he and I got into an argument over my guitar. I was so angry that I gathered up my things and headed to the bus stop without a word. When he realized that I had not said goodbye, he came charging out of the house in his explosive dad-like way, missed the door handle, cracked the storm door, and in a very loud way let me know that no matter how mad you get, no matter what’s going on, you never ever EVER leave without saying goodbye. Because you never know when it will be the last time you get the chance.
So, Goodbye Dad. Thank you for loving me.
Photo Credit: Laura Redburn
Have you ever had to write a Eulogy? Do you have any helpful tips to share?