“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.