At the end of July, my beloved Nan sadly passed away. My Mum asked me if I would be prepared to write and read a eulogy for her, knowing she would not be able to do it herself. I agreed to do it even though I have neither written nor read a eulogy before. I felt truly honoured that I was asked to do it although I knew it was going to be one of the hardest things I have done in my life.
Where to start?
Getting started was somewhat of a challenge. I kept putting it off, knowing I still had time to write it, as the funeral was three weeks after her death. Thankfully, the good old Internet gave me some tips on how to go about it. One of the suggestions was to ask family members and friends for stories that could be shared as part of the eulogy. One of my Nan’s oldest friends Pam was also her sister-in-law. They became friends whilst they were growing up in an orphanage. Pam shared some stories with her daughter who then emailed them to me. There were some funny stories, some of which I had heard before. It was the perfect opening for me to start writing.
The day arrived when I had told myself I had to sit down and write the eulogy. I was to do nothing else until I had come up with a first draft. I had been putting it off so much, that I had built a dread and fear of the task that lay ahead and was doubting my ability to be able to write something worthy of such a special lady. I also felt that it was making it real, that she was actually gone and never coming back. I found myself bang in the first stage of grief, Denial!
Still, I opened up my laptop and typed the words, Eulogy for Mary Doreen Phillips (Nee Ffitch). I saved it to my desktop and then stared blankly at the words. I wanted to ask her, what do you want me to say? How can I whittle down nearly ninety-six years of life into a seven-minute dialogue? So, I started at the very beginning, when and where she was born and the family she became part of that day. I then used the stories I had been given to talk about her childhood in the orphanage and suddenly the words started to pour from my heart and my own memories. My fingers typed the words as I cried but carried on, allowing my grief to wash over me as I remembered her. Nan loved the song sung by Billie Jo Spears, Blanket on the Ground. I had referred to the lyrics as a way of closing the eulogy and decided to listen to it. I had been playing it since she died and each time it made me cry and this time was no different. The whole process was cathartic and at the end of writing the first draft and listening to the song, I felt a welcome but temporary sense of relief.
I emailed it to my Mum in Spain, so that she could read it with Dad. I told her that she could be as frank as she wanted and I would happily change it. However, the only changes she made were grammatical ones.
Preparing to read
Having written it, I now needed to start practising the reading. I am used to standing up in front of people when I deliver training so was not concerned about this aspect. My main worry was being able to keep my emotions in check so that I could get through the whole thing without breaking down in tears. It didn’t matter how many times I did it in front of the mirror, even as the words started to be committed to my memory, I still choked and burst into tears. The final two paragraphs were particularly poignant and triggered me into my emotions. I decided to stop the rehearsals until it was nearer the time to deliver it.
Finally, the day arrived and it was time for us to say our goodbyes. I had arranged to see Nan the morning of the funeral. I went on my own to see her. She looked so peaceful and beautiful. I kissed her and told her how much I loved her. I had a copy of the eulogy and a card with me that I wanted to put in the coffin with her. I had a strong urge to read it out to her and did so, changing the wording, personalising it to her. It was the first time I managed to read it without breaking down into tears and I knew that I was ready.
Later at the crematorium, the Celebrant introduced herself to me and gave some advice on how to deal with my emotions. She also assured me that she would step in and take over if I gave her the nod. It was extremely reassuring to know that I had her on standby but I was determined to do it.
We went in and took our seats and then they brought her in. I wanted to let go but instead, started to breathe deeply and tell myself there would be time for tears later. After the introduction, a hymn and a prayer, I was invited up to the pulpit to give my eulogy. I took a sip of water, a deep breath and began to speak. I didn’t even need my notes at the beginning; the words just flowed out of me. I took my time, wanting the family to be able to absorb the words and remember the Mary we knew and loved. The more I spoke, the more relaxed I became. Naturally, there were moments when I felt myself choking but I just paused and used breathing to get me back on track. Before I knew it, I was walking back to my seat and as I sat down I sobbed as the relief of doing it allowed my grief to consume me.
After the service, so many people came up to me to thank me for my words and to congratulate me on how I had read the eulogy. I had a wonderful hug with my Mum as we both cried. She thanked me too and as we left the crematorium, I looked to the skies and thought of the words I had used to close the eulogy. We love you, be happy.
About the author: Stuart Dickson
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