Although I initially thought I had no preferences or quotes/poems, etc, to record for my funeral, over time some have come to mind. I think I became more attentive when I had a place to write them down. Now I’m happy to have some beautiful quotes that express my loving goodbyes in ways I like. (Some who are dear to me will read this post so by sharing the quotes here I’m also expressing my love to them while I’m alive, but that’s not so bad, either!)
“Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure” – Oliver Sacks
“My glory was I had such friends” – W.B. Yeats
“It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love” – Stephen Hawking
Maya Angelou’s gorgeous poem, When Great Trees Die, was recently used in an obituary I saw, honoring a beloved, tremendous man.
But what if someone wasn’t so tremendous? We may feel obliged to follow the dictum “speak no ill of the dead.” Instead, consider how 3 women I know eulogized their very difficult mothers:
“Her middle name was Toy, and she did like to toy with people. Why was that?” (this was in the middle of the eulogy and was followed by some insights about her mom’s life)
Always Marry an April Girl (by Ogden Nash)
Praise the spells and bless the charms,
I found April in my arms.
April golden, April cloudy,
Gracious, cruel, tender, rowdy;
April soft in flowered languor,
April cold with sudden anger,
Ever changing, ever true —
I love April, I love you.
(For a mother born in April, a relative of mine read this poem at a private family service, saying nothing else. Afterwards her father hugged her speechlessly with tears in his eyes.)
My friend and her 2 sisters included the fact of their mother having been an alcoholic in their eulogies. Many relatives, including one from AA, later told them how meaningful this was for them.
The phrase I’m using in the title of this post, Truth-telling, comes from the following passage, found on the blog of Sarah Kerr PhD, death doula, and ritual healing practitioner. I’d never heard of her before recently receiving her link from a friend, but I look forward to reading more from her.
Truth-telling at the Funeral:
Delivering a tribute for an imperfect human
In Western society, funerals are primarily spoken rituals, so the specific words we use carry enormous power. The truth is healing, and even the tiniest untruth—of either commission or omission—undermines people’s trust in the ceremony and, by extension, its healing power.
A client joked once that, at her dad’s funeral, she should have checked in the coffin to make sure it was really him inside. The glowing picture painted by the officiant and speakers didn’t reflect how incredibly difficult it had been to be his daughter. Decades later, she still felt betrayed, because her truth had been officially denied in that ritual space. The ceremony was wounding instead of healing.
How do you deal with this if you’ve been asked to deliver a tribute to someone when (some of) the truth isn’t pretty? What if some of it’s downright ugly?
The goal of a funeral is to honor a person and their life, and it’s right and good to concentrate on the bright parts. But be sure you honor the dark parts too.
Most of the time, people just need a nod to the bigger truth, an acknowledgement of the whole story rather than an elaborate inventory of flaws.
“His children are grieving that he wasn’t the father they needed him to be.”
“Her struggles with alcohol brought hardship to herself, and to those who loved her.”
“His passions ran strong, and on dark days, his anger could be violent.”
“She was a hard woman to love.”
Just these few words signal to the listeners that the truth is being acknowledged, and that you can be trusted. From there, people will open their hearts to what you have to say.
In death, as in life, pushing the hard parts into the shadows usually brings more harm than healing.
This week, consider what poems or quotes are meaningful to you. What thoughts or experiences do you have about giving truthful eulogies? Please share them with us in the comments section as well as writing them down in your planning guidebook.
Step #1 STRUCTURE IT IN
Step #2 find and use a PLANNING GUIDE
Step #3 learn from the FUNERAL CONSUMERS ALLIANCE
Step #4 draw upon INSIGHTS from bereavement research
Step #5 Find RITUALS that resonate with you
Step #6 Consider NATURAL BURIAL choices
Step #7 Consider HOME FUNERAL choices
Step #8 Think about a EULOGY
Thursday, May 17th – Death Cafes and more