Giving the eulogy
Last week I did one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. I wrote and delivered the eulogy for my father.
I find it pretty easy to write about other things (thanks to my father, who was a writer). But this one really hit me hard. He was the last surviving parent between my wife and me, so it’s the "end of an era". But more than that, he was my dad. I delivered the eulogy at my mom’s service, which is one reason I got this gig, I suppose! But I didn’t feel as close to my mother as I did to my father. Probably a father-son thing.
He was only a month away from his 96th birthday, and we can say that he lived a long fruitful life, blah blah blah…. that doesn’t change the fact that "he’s gone, he’s gone, and nothing’s gonna bring him back", as the Grateful Dead song goes.
I struggled with finding the right tone, figuring out the audience and the point of the eulogy. Was I speaking on behalf of his family? Was I supposed to present the man and his life to those who may not have known him? Was I supposed to make people there feel comforted? I was tortured over what to do, and all in the midst of my own grief over losing him.
Finally I decided, with the help of my wife (of course, since I’m pretty terrible at sussing out my feelings), that all I could really do was present my own impressions of my dad, based on my experiences. We planned to have a Quaker-style sharing session after the eulogy, and people would be welcome to share their own memories then. Once I realized that I really could only speak from my own experiences, things seemed to flow more smoothly.
So with a little Dutch courage and my notes on my iPhone in my hand, wearing my Irving plaid tie (Dad loved our Scottish heritage), and a Phillies ball cap (he loved Philly sports), I waded in.
You might think that being a teacher for so long, I’d be used to public speaking. And you’d be right. But I honestly wasn’t prepared for this kind of public speaking, where it really meant something to me personally, and to all the people who attended that service. Family, friends, his wife, residents of the assisted living facility where they lived, an old high school friend of mine, friends of Dad and his wife.
And in spite of my trepidation, it seemed to go very well, at least judging from all the positive comments I received. My two sisters, whom I would count as the best judges of this, said "I knocked it out of the park" and it "was spot on". I feel we did Dad proud and honored his life and qualities in a gracious way. With his wife’s request, we had a Scottish bagpiper, and I know that he would have loved that his wife was piped in! Afterwards, we met and mingled, thanking those who came and those who shared their memories.
Now it’s on to the hard part. I won’t have any more Sunday afternoon phone calls with him. I won’t have his matter-of-fact encouragement that "something will turn up" when facing some difficulty. We won’t be able to dissect the Phillies’ latest losing streak or throw toast on the field during Penn football games. I won’t get any more book and author recommendations, which I was still getting a month before his passing. And as I told so many after the service, we won’t see his like again.