‘How long had you known him?’ A common question I am asked after I have delivered a eulogy. In most cases I have not had the pleasure of meeting the deceased. What I have done is listened carefully to his nearest and dearest as they relate to me their memories and experiences. They laugh and they cry and relate the various anecdotes – and I listen. Bit by bit, the picture develops. What was his background? Did he have a sense of humour? What was his philosophy on life? In this way, I interpret the essence of the man in eulogy form. This is part of my role as a funeral celebrant.
Sometimes I do know the dearly departed, and that is why I have been asked to officiate at the ceremony. Those eulogies are all the more poignant as I draw on my own memories, reflecting both my experiences and those of friends and relatives. Doing a life justice is a bittersweet experience, but one that is so satisfying when you know you have done it well.
Obviously, there are challenges. How do you write a eulogy for a child who has been snatched so young? What about the loner about whom nobody knew very much? Sadly, there are those difficult characters, who have left a raft of bitterness and bad memories behind. There is a story behind each of those people and the challenge is in discovering it and delivering a eulogy that meets the needs of those in attendance.
These are some of the scenarios that we will discuss in an upcoming workshop that I’m delivering at SAWC. We’ll be learning how to listen, what to ask, how to divine, how to write and lastly how to deliver a eulogy that leaves the mourners feeling that they have both learnt something new, and been reminded of what they knew and loved about the deceased. They will listen, they will laugh, they will cry and they will remember.
Dorothy Shorne has been a funeral celebrant since 1995 and is passionate about honouring a person’s life through words, ritual and ceremony. She will be delivering an earnest and sincere workshop on Writing Eulogies (whether for real life or for your fiction) on 21st July.