I clutched the bundle of handwritten notes tightly in my hands. For the last half-an-hour people had been streaming in but now the chapel was quiet and all eyes were focused on the Celebrant welcoming everyone to the Funeral and Celebration of Life of my much-loved, recently departed father.
It’s curious that, apart from weddings, which were becoming rarer these days, funerals were one of the few times that so many members of one family would gather, I pondered quickly scanning the chapel around me taking care not to look as though I was not listening intently to the welcome.
Sitting snugly between my mother and younger sister, directly in front of my fathers’ coffin which provided some comfort as the seconds edged closer to the allocated time for the delivery of my eulogy. It was the first time I had been asked to deliver a eulogy and being such an important one, I wanted it to be excellent. Awesome even.
But what exactly was a eulogy? I had deliberated before starting to compose it a few days earlier. So, in my usual style of exactitude, I had looked online for a definition. ‘A eulogy’, I had found, was ‘a speech or piece of writing in praise of someone who had recently died’. Straightforward enough, I had thought.
But can the measure of the depth and breadth of a human life be truly reflected in a short piece containing praise only?
Yes, I had loved my father but, like most others; our relationship was far from perfect. He, like any other parent, was far from faultless. As gentle and caring as he was, he was also like many fathers of his generation, a bit emotionally distant.
I reached over and gently took my mothers hand. Something I had not done for at least fifty years: most of those years any tenderness between us had been clouded by uneasy tension. However, today was not the day to rekindle past issues no matter how significant they may have been at the time. My mother was now frail, wheelchair-ridden and grieving the loss of her husband who had shared the good times and challenges of spending nearly seventy years together. But all in all, I knew that as parents they had both done their best. As I sat holding her small delicate hand, I knew the next eulogy I was going to write was going to be for her. One that would definitely be much harder to write…
My children and two young grandchildren were in the row directly behind me. Today they would be meeting a wide variety of distant relatives for the very first time. Most of my many cousins were part of the crowd on this day paying their respect for a much-loved uncle. Many I had not seen for years. Some were unrecognisable. I had not had enough time before the ceremony to acknowledge everyone but would definitely be obliged to when all was done and we would swap family stories over afternoon tea.
I thought about my two grown children now with families of their own. I worried about how the two littlest grandchildren were coping. There had been a series of funerals lately including that of their half brother that had recently lost his life in a car accident. He was way too young.
Had I been a good parent?
Was I still performing my responsibilities satisfactorily? Have my character flaws been exposed while trying to maintain my individuality and raise a family as my own parents had? Only my children and grandchildren would be able to assess that when my time comes to pass from this world.
I wondered what they would share in a eulogy for me.
The Celebrant appeared to be nearing the end of her address. I felt my sister shuffling in her seat. Having known her for over sixty years, I could easily read her mind. I was sure she was speculating how her eulogy was going to stack up against mine.
Glancing at my notes to make sure they were still in order, I suddenly remembered I had forgotten my reading glasses! Trying not to panic, I leaned over and whispered this in my sister’s ear. Then, in a rare moment of warmth and collaboration, she rustled through her bag and handed me hers. They had bright red rims which reflected her personality, not mine but I was more than grateful for the gesture of harmony and solidarity.
After a nod from the Celebrant, I rose from my chair and made my way to the lectern. I paused for a moment to acknowledge the large family gathering before me, took a deep breath then began:
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