Summing up a life

“How long had you known him?”  That is sometimes a question that I am asked after I have delivered a eulogy.  In most cases I have not had the pleasure of meeting the deceased.  What I have done is listened carefully to his nearest and dearest as they relate to me their memories and experiences.  They laugh and they cry and relate the various anecdotes – and I listen.  Bit by bit, the picture grows.  What was his background?  Did he have a sense of humour?  What was his philosophy on life?  In this way, I interpret the essence of the man in eulogy form.  This is part of my role as a funeral celebrant.

Sometimes I do know the dearly departed, and that is why I have been asked to officiate at the ceremony.  Those eulogies are all the more poignant as I draw on my own memories, reflecting both my experiences and those of friends and relatives.  Doing a life justice is a bitter-sweet experience, but one that is so satisfying when you know you have done it well.

There are challenges of course.  How do you write a eulogy for a child who has been snatched so young?  What about the loner about whom nobody knew very much?  Sadly there are those difficult characters, who have left a raft of bitterness and bad memories behind.  There is a story behind each of those people and the challenge is in discovering it and delivering a eulogy that meets the needs of those in attendance.

These are some of the scenarios that we will discuss in our coming workshop – how to listen, what to ask, how to divine, how to write and lastly how to deliver a eulogy that leaves the mourners feeling that they have both learnt something new, and been reminded of what they knew and loved about the deceased.  They will listen, they will laugh, they will cry and they will remember.

At some point, you may be called upon to write or contribute to a eulogy. Often this will be with very little notice and in a time of much emotion and distress. This is a time to call on interview techniques, interpersonal and writing skills.

On Sunday 21st July, I am delivering a workshop on writing eulogies at the SA Writer’s Centre.  Details are available from the Centre.   In this workshop, you will learn the techniques to deliver a eulogy that will inform, delight, transfix and celebrate. You will engagingly encapsulate the lifespan of a person with your words and capture the essence of the deceased.

Memorial Reflection

This afternoon, I attended the memorial service for Elliot Johnston QC.  Elliot was an old political comrade of my father’s, and also represented Dad when he was in strife over a conflict with a neighbour (another story).  He was a man of keen intellect and was highly respected both in the state and around the country.  This was a memorial service, as Elliot had bequeathed his body to the University.

There were many distinguished speakers who paid homage to the man and his accomplishments.  He was 93, so there were many years in which to make an impact.  The last speaker was his son, who spoke endearingly of his father, and towards the end of that tribute, listed the things that he had learnt from the man.  It got me thinking – what have I learnt from Dad?  It is something that needs some reflection, so I will report back on that.

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Unfortunately, in the hours leading up to the service, I was involved in an accident with my car and it is probably going to be a write-off.  I had been pondering over effective control mechanisms in relation to young Donald’s use of the car and assumptions of ownership.  All rights and no responsibility, that sort of thing and definitely no cost. Well now there is no problem as there is no car!  For a while, anyway but hopefully long enough to re-introduce him to buses and his two feet.

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I have now had a little time to consider what I have learnt from my father in growing up on his household and it woudl be as follows:

Work ethic – this was strongly instilled in all of us girls and demonstrated by my father, in fact by both parents.  What I have also learnt though is that one should look at working smarter not harder, and factor in some time for play.

Tools – thanks to Dad, I can use all the tools in my shed and have reasonable competency in a range of handyperson tasks.  He still insists on keeping blades sharpened and moving parts oiled though as noone can do that as well as him.  He is probably right there too – certainly better than me.

Hospitality – set another place at the table.  Dad would often meet someone in the course of the day and bring them home for a meal for a bed.  His hospitality was plain, but anyone was always welcome and he would offer any help that he thought was needed.  He picked up hitchhikers, international travellers and people like that.

Passionate beliefs – work for causes in which you believe.  Dad still hands out how-to-vote cards for the Greens and attends various meetings of those causes that interest him.  He is a life member of the Friends of the ABC.  He is not one to stand back and let others do the work – he is in there helping.

Family Values he has a stong sense of family and respect for family strength.  He would do anything to help his family, nuclear or extended.

Stoicism – this is a late addition but it has occurrerd to me that the expression ‘When the going gets tough, the tough get going‘, was probably written for my father.  He picks himself up, dusts himself off and keeps going.

So – what has your father taught you?