Why do we deliver eulogies only after someone dies? According to the Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, the definition of eulogy is, “a commendatory oration or writing especially in honor of one deceased.” That says especially in honor of one deceased, not only in honor of one deceased.
Most hospice workers and doctors will tell you there are four things people who are dying want to hear. “Forgive me,” “I forgive you,” “Thank you,” and “I love you.” A well-crafted eulogy provides those sentiments and more. Eulogies tell us where a person fit in the world, who loved that person, and what impact they made. Belonging and mattering. Who doesn’t want that for their legacy? But no one hears their own because we reserve eulogies for the dead.
What if you delivered a eulogy before someone died? What if you delivered a commendatory oration to someone who was dying? How would that make them feel? How would that make you feel?
I did it. When my mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and given about three months to live, I made a long checklist of everything I needed to get done. I needed to move her into hospice, call her financial planner, locate her will and consult with an elder care attorney, call friends and relatives to let them know what was going on, go to her house and pack the dress, necklace and shoes she wanted to be buried in, and explain to her why I didn’t pack any pantyhose. (I don’t think any woman should go to the afterlife wearing those horrible things.)
Also on my to-do list, was write my mother’s eulogy. And so I did. I dictated it into my iPhone while sitting in traffic about a month before she died. As I wrote it, I remembered. I remembered that she used to play dodge ball with my sisters and me in the driveway after dinner. I remembered her sense of humor and all the silly songs she taught us. I remembered how much grace and bravery she exhibited when she faced her first bout of cancer 20 years earlier. I remembered just how much I loved her and how much she mattered to me. And I wanted her to know. I wanted to be absolutely sure she knew that she was loved, that she belonged, and that she mattered.
And so I drove to the hospice home a few nights later hoping I’d have the courage to read the eulogy to her. As strange luck would have it, my mother was especially tired and she didn’t open her eyes that night. I had the courage. I read my mother her eulogy about a month before she died. I didn’t tell her it was a eulogy, just something I had written about her and wanted to share. I knew she could hear me based on how she squeezed my hand and laughed and cried while I was talking to her.
I did not deliver it it at her funeral. My sister wanted to deliver her own and I was happy to give her the lectern. I had already shared my words with the only person who needed to hear them.
Go ahead. Give that eulogy. What are you waiting for? Death?
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