Have you written your eulogy yet?
We are used to encouraging people to write their will. There is an even stronger case for getting them to write their eulogy, writes Darren Blaney
This might not seem the most cheerful question to start a blog post with; it is, however, an important one.
So far this year I have conducted more funerals than in the previous four years put together. What has been particularly sad for me has been the times when I have been handed a small piece of paper with a few scribbled notes on and been asked to read a eulogy based on that and little else. A few words to remember a life of 70, 80 or 90 years. A small piece of paper to represent someone who was a parent, grandparent, spouse, friend, and dedicated worker. So many times, I have been told, "We don't know what to say... no-one really remembers her younger days.... we don't feel able to say anything ...."
I contrast that with the occasions when I have been given something more substantial to work with, or when the family themselves have taken the time and effort amidst their grief to present a tribute. I remember the son, in full police uniform, standing at the front of the chapel and speaking with pride through his tears about his father's dedicated service as a fireman, and how it had inspired both him and his brother to work in the public services. I think of the man who gave me four sheets of paper full of stories and anecdotes about his colourful mother and what she had got up to.
There is, however, one, sure-fire way to prevent a “no eulogy” service happening to you when the time comes. Write your own eulogy and write it now.
Such an idea is not as daft as it sounds. There are, in fact, many good reasons for writing a “living eulogy”. Such a document is a statement of how you want to be remembered, and therefore it is also a blueprint for how you want to live. Indeed, I would break this down further and say that there are nine reasons why you should take the time to write your funeral eulogy. Some of these reasons overlap, of course, but each one is important.
Writing your eulogy helps you to...
See what is truly important in life (and what isn't).
Clarify your values.
Set long-term priorities.
Stop being distracted by secondary things
Identify the people who are most precious to you.
Highlight possible regrets you might have before they become full-blown.
Make mid-life corrections before it is too late.
Clarify what you really want to be remembered for, and therefore...
Identify who you really are.
Someone might object, "I have no intention of dying soon, so why should I do this? It sounds a bit morbid!" My reply would be that not intending to die anytime soon is the main reason for doing this exercise! As the list above shows, writing your eulogy is about how you intend to live now! It is about planning your legacy today so that you know how to live tomorrow.
How to Write Your Eulogy
There are many ways to do this. Here is a simple one. Pick the appropriate or relevant people from the following list. Some may not apply, but many will. (Any desire you might have to outlive everyone else on this list needs to be temporarily put aside!)
For each one selected write a paragraph of what you want that person to say about you after you have gone. It need only be a few sentences. You might find it helpful to think of each person speaking about four things:
How you treated them/How you made them feel
Favourite Memory or Two (Ideally this should be a memory that you want to make, not that you already have made.)
Achievements or Milestones
It sounds a lot, I know. But do not let perfectionism stop you. You will not get it perfect first time, nor do you need to. This is a living document that you will probably revise several times over the years ahead. Just a few sentences for each person covering the four areas is enough. When you have finished you have a rough blueprint of how you want your life to be remembered.
And now what?
The next step is the unnerving one. It is to take your eulogy, read it and consider one of the most important and life-changing questions you will ever ask yourself: "If I continue to live like I am living at the moment, is this the eulogy that will end-up being delivered at my funeral?"
The answer to that may cause you to stop and think.
The next question is to ask, "If I want this to be how I am remembered and celebrated, what are some changes that I need to make now to my life?"
Then list five to six changes that suggest themselves to you. These are your life-change priorities for the next three-to-six months.
If you want to take this seriously, here is a suggestion. Why not have a Living Eulogy Session in your homegroup? (You may find that it takes two or three sessions to get through everyone). Each person has the chance to write and share their 'living eulogy' with the group. Then there is a chance to discuss and ask questions, not least of which are these three:
"What do you plan to change in the next few months to move towards what you have written?"
"How can we help you, support you, and pray for you in this?"
"What do we need to be asking you in the next three or six months to help keep you accountable to your vision?"
What if we took this seriously? What if we helped everyone in our churches to write and live their living eulogies? What if that was one of our distinctives: 'We will help you to live now with the end in mind'?
What would the effects be? Would we become more focused people, giving our best time and energy to the things that truly matter to us? Would we be those who 'live on purpose'? Would we become people of character? Of kindness? Of spiritual depth?
Perhaps we should have an annual Living Eulogy Sunday when we challenge everyone to write or rewrite their eulogy and recommit to living towards that life in the coming 12 months? We have a National Will Writing Month, perhaps the Church should have a National Living Eulogy Month?
If this strikes a chord with you, regardless of what others do, why not write your own Living Eulogy and share it with your pastor?
A closing thought
It is often claimed "No-one on their deathbed ever said they wish they'd spent more time at the office."
We smile when we hear it. There is an obvious irony to the saying. However, I think many people are much more likely to say something else, something even sadder.
"I have lived a full and busy life. I just suspect that I spent a lot of it worrying about stuff that wasn't important and doing things that didn't really matter."
Don't let that person be you. Write your eulogy. Begin living it.
Darren Blaney is minister of Herne Bay Baptist Church
Images | Caleb Santos | Unsplash
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