Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The perfect eulogy: Short, sweet and honest

Short Eulogy Examples
The perfect eulogy: Short, sweet and honest

When hundreds gather for Christopher Reeve's memorial service at The Juilliard School in New York on Friday, eloquent, moving eulogies no doubt will be delivered. As they should. He was an amazing human being who showed that being a superhero in the movies was a minor role compared to being a superhero in real life.

But eulogies can be a tricky business. They're either so beautiful and elegant they show that death can be a marvelous passage, or they're so pompous and untrue — and lengthy — you're glad the person isn't around to sit through the damn thing.

I've given only one eulogy in my life. It was for my friend Vicki, who died a few years ago.

In her case, I took a gamble and told the truth. As someone once said, nothing astounds people more. For me, it paid off.

The second I saw her daughter and father laughing from their front-row seats, I knew I had made the right decision. I was pretty sure I could hear Vicki laughing, too.

With Halloween only a few days away, it seemed a good time to take a look at the art of eulogies. At least that's what Cyrus Copeland hinted in an e-mail the other day. No big surprise there. He edited the new Farewell, Godspeed: The Greatest Eulogies of Our Time.

I know it sounds ghoulish, but it's a great read. John F. Kennedy on Robert Frost. Madonna on Gianni Versace. Phil Donahue on Erma Bombeck.

Listen to Charlie Matthau eulogize his father, actor Walter Matthau, in August 2000:

"My father taught me to have a sense of humor about everything, no matter how sad — not to take life too seriously because none of us is getting out of here alive, and little of what we do is going to matter in a few years. I remember him telling me about the funeral where everyone hated the deceased and nobody knew what to say, so the eulogist got up there and said, 'Well ... his brother was worse.' It's the opposite of the situation we have today."

I didn't give the eulogy at my dad's funeral. I couldn't rise to the occasion, no matter how much I wanted to. I saw no purpose in standing up there and blubbering away, making everyone uncomfortable, so I let the minister do the honors while I sat in silence, thinking of everything I should have been saying. I regret that decision now, but I still believe it was the right one at the time.

After the funeral, I was going through my father's wallet and found a scrap of paper folded between his driver's license and credit cards. It was a small note written by me years ago, a note I stuck into a Father's Day card. I had no idea he had carried it around in his back pocket for 30 years.
"Dad — When I succeeded you stood back and took no credit, and when I failed you were by my side. What more could a son ask? Love, Craig."
Short Eulogy Examples

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