By William Thomas
There’s a very good chance that some day, in the not-too-distant future, you will be asked to deliver the eulogy for a family member or friend who has passed. Which is the way it should be, because giving the eulogy for a friend or family member who has not died would be “jumping the gun,” as they say.
I heard a well-spoken man from the funeral industry on the radio recently, offering advice to people preparing to first compose, and then read, a tribute to a loved one gone. The advice was very valuable: ask a lot of questions to get a complete picture of the person’s life, don’t adlib, more “he” or “she” and less “me” and “we,” practice, practice, practice, and relax, but not with the aid of alcohol. Early into the interview, it became obvious that there are a lot of inappropriate eulogies being administered at today’s funerals.
Like the minister who was saying nice things about “John” until a frustrated family member stood up and reminded him that the name of the guy in the box was “Jonas.”
Like the dead man’s best buddy who, to the horror of his family, went on about how they both frequented a strip joint every Friday after work and on one occasion after the deceased had been away on business, their favourite peeler hit the stage and dropped her pants to reveal a “Welcome Back Barry” message on a background of buttocks. (Witnesses say the casket shifted uncomfortably twice during that presentation.)
Diplomacy and good taste should be paramount in preparing an eulogy. A eulogist can always talk about a peculiar trait or personal story about the dearly departed, but always with a kind and gentle approach. A few examples then, of “good eulogy” versus “bad eulogy.”
“Mom’s least favourite thing in the word was the drudgery of housecleaning.” Good. “When the health inspector ordered our house to be burned to the ground and not rebuilt until the soil had been decontaminated … we realized how much Mom hated housework.” Bad.
“I see Dad’s girlfriend is lurking way in the back there, where, as usual, Mom can’t see what’s she’s up to!” Really bad. “I see where all of Dad’s loved ones are present in this room today, from the legally united to the largely uninvited.” Better.
“Everybody here knows my brother Dwayne liked a good practical joke, so in that sense, he died doing what he loved.” Good. “If anyone here knows who supplied my dumb-ass brother Dwayne with the dynamite for what amounted to his final ‘toilet trick,’ I’d really like to know about it.” Bad.
“Milly, or if you prefer, Milton, came into our lives like a ship in the night and we bonded, not immediately, but inevitably.” Nice. “This is a helluva time to find out she was not a woman and therefore not my real mother!” Bad.
“Death is never easy and quite often it brings more complication than relief, more chaos than calm.” Smooth. “Okay, they mixed up the bodies in the boxes. Dad will be here as soon as the funeral directory gets back from lunch.” Blunt.
And a humorous eulogy. Many have tried and ended up wishing they were the ones in the casket. A gathering of mourners is the toughest crowd a public speaker can possibly face. The funny stuff is best left to professionals like John Cleese who bid farewell to his good friend and fellow Monty Python member like this …
“Graham Chapman, co-author of the ‘Parrot Sketch,’ is no more,” Cleese began.
“He has ceased to be, bereft of life, he rests in peace, he has kicked the bucket, hopped the twig, bit the dust, snuffed it, breathed his last, and gone to meet the Great Head of Light Entertainment in the sky.
“Well, I feel that I should say, ‘Nonsense. Good riddance to him, the freeloading bastard! I hope he fries. And the reason I think I should say this is, he would never forgive me if I didn’t, if I threw away this opportunity to shock you all on his behalf.’”
Yes, Cleese said that and much more and much worse and he brought the bloody house down. So yeah, unless you’re the funniest person on the planet, as is Cleese, addressing a crowd who make people laugh for a living, I’d go with heartfelt, benevolent and brief.
For comments, ideas and copies of The True Story of Wainfleet, go to www.williamthomas.ca