Five things I wish I knew when I offered to give a eulogy
Waking today I remembered that twelve months ago, the 29th November, was an equally drab and grey November morning. Not too much different to any other autumn morning when the sun stays at half light as though its too apathetic to break through the clouds. It suited me, felt like an honest reflection of my mood as it was the day of Dad’s funeral. Two weeks had passed since he died, two long and short weeks, not dissimilar to how time has passed since – so fast it feels like a lifetime ago, and so slow that it’s as real as yesterday. In that fortnight I had spent many hours ruminating on giving his eulogy, something that felt like a huge privilege and a huge responsibility in equal measure.
1. Ask permission before it’s too late
I only asked Dad if I could give his euology in the last couple weeks before he died. It’s no exaggeration to say I’d been thinking about it for years but I was slightly anxious about asking in case he said no! My Dad was a complete paradox of traditional Lincolnshire stock, but also the proudest Dad on the planet, so it could go either way. In the event he started off ambivalent What do I care I’m not going to be around to worry, and ended up all behind it, telling me to make sure I didn’t go on too long (he knows me well) and also saying he hoped it’d appear on my blog!! This conversation has brought me much comfort over the last twelve months, the confidence he had in me to do a good job, but also in his acceptance, indeed his enthusiasm for my blogging.
2. Make sure family members know about that discussion
Pretty much immediately after Dad died we set to discussing his send off. The first time I mentioned me giving his eulogy it’s fair to say my Mum and siblings were lukewarm to the idea. No-one objected outright, but no-one was exactly brimming with enthusiasm either. This threw me, then upset me and eventually made sense. It wasn’t that they doubted my ability to do a good job (although that’s exactly what I heard and interpreted at first), it was partly about a concern that it would be too hard for me, and partly a concern that it would be too hard for other people and it would be better that someone more removed did it.
3. Start writing it as soon as possible
In the end I did give Dad’s eulogy, we spent hours crafting it, luckily Dad had made some notes about his early years before he met Mum which made it easier to talk intelligibly about that time. Google also came into it’s own when checking out the passage that his first naval trip had taken. We gathered stories and reminisced for hours. Mum and I played with words, perfecting and perfecting and were almost at a danger of over perfecting.
The priest that came to discuss Dad’s funeral with Mum and I was hugely supportive of me giving the eulogy, stressed how it’s always good if someone who knows the person is able to share a sense of personal; that helped a lot, boosted my fragile confidence about the whole thing. The other thing that boosted that belief was the lovely twittersphere and I am so grateful for those who reached out. I had slowly returned to twitter after Dad died having been very sporadic for a week or two; the advice that stuck with me was from Andrea Sutcliffe:
So, I rehearsed. I read it out loud and I read it in my head.
I am perfectly used to speaking to groups of strangers, rooms full of them. Less used to talking to family and friends, especially on such occasions. I remember repeating slow down and breathe in my head in the hymn before I had to get up. In fact I remember repeating it on loop in the days that preceded Dad’s funeral, I was on a short wick and felt like I was inpatient with everything and everyone. I was completely hypersensitive, everything illicited a stronger reaction, good and bad. What this meant on the day was that every emotion was magnified, including nerves.
Luckily, we had the logistics sorted, I had a printed copy of Dad’s eulogy, double spaced with a few stars scribbled on where I needed to breathe and take a pause. I’d rehearsed enough to know the two points where I was at highest risk of cracking up – the point where I mentioned my sister’s best mate, Dad’s honorary third daughter; and the point where I insisted that Dad hadn’t lost his fight with cancer (I really need to blog about that analogy some time). We also had a back up plan (Bobby would have been proud that we were that well prepared), my brother in law had a copy in his pocket and had promised he’d finish it off or do it if I didn’t feel able to.
5. Remember that everyone there is with you, not waiting for you to fail
The climax to this was actually much better than I thought. A calm came over me as I stood at that lectern and looked at the sea of faces in front of me. I was so proud that the church was full, those from the cadet force were in full uniform, something that made my heart swell as I thought about how proud Dad would have been. My gorgeous, lovely, ever supportive PA from work was in the audience and I spotted her in the sea of faces before I started talking and that made me feel much calmer. I couldn’t look at the front row, at my nearest and dearest although my Mum was the definition of serene and dignified, I wasn’t sure I could handle the anticipation and the pain. I took a deep breath, gathered my thoughts and started.
It went well.
On reflection I’m sure I could have been slower, allowed more time after the laughs (I’d not anticipated them, not at a funeral), almost certainly should have made more eye contact, but the stakes were high and I couldn’t risk that. I didn’t crack up giving Dad’s eulogy, I channeled Dad’s stoicism and held it together until back in my seat. That’s when the nerves really kicked in, the hands were shaking and the sobs rattling around in the back of my throat.
It was done though and I felt an immense relief.
All good researchers tell you that you measurement and feedback is key. I felt humbled at the number of people who made a point of congratulating me after the funeral, the biggest compliments were those that said it was exactly as Dad would have wanted, and we’d captured his essence perfectly. A year on as I sit thinking of Dad, thinking of that day, remembering the love that was shared with us, in words, in actions, in company, it feels right. I’m so glad that I risked giving Dad’s eulogy, that I spent the hours perfecting it, that I asked him and got his support. They’re only words after all but they’re probably the most important words I’ve ever written.
If you’d like to read Dad’s eulogy it’s available here.
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