Eulogy for a relative I really respect but don't really know?
June 9, 2010 9:57 AM   Subscribe

Eulogy for a relative I really respect but don't really know?

I have a large (LARGE) extended family. My eldest uncle is not long for this earth thanks to a sudden and rapid case of the big C. I've been told by family that I'd be asked to speak at his service as I was his only god-child among 50-some cousins.

I feel I don't know him well enough to speak about him without being generic.

I mean, I do know him - I've known him my whole life, stand-in father once or twice, seemed like a great guy, always telling the worst corny jokes for a laugh. But I have very few one-on-one memories - most time was just at the family gatherings for a few hours or at most a day or two with the crowd of other relatives. Neither one of us is religious; the 'god parent' thing was little cash in a card on my birthday and Christmas. He gave me the 'talk' at 12 and threatened to kick my ass when I was a snotty 14 year old. Pretty sure those are things I shouldn't bring up.

He's in the hospital, and they hope he'll be able to get out, but he's not there so much right now (pain, meds and other stuff).

I've been at services where a speaker was good and it brightened the whole room, and where the speaker was terrible and it seemed to make it worse. I'd like to at least not make it worse for his family.

Thoughts? Suggestions?
posted by anti social order to Human Relations (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Include the ass-kicking talk, forget about the gift contents. Just go up, give a little overview of how you know him, some touchpoints over the years, at least one of his corny jokes, and a story or two. It doesn't have to be comprehensive and it doesn't have to reveal a life-long private relationship. You're just giving props to someone who's had an influence on your life.

And frankly, coming from a family where there was no adult male to stand in for an ineffectual father, I'd have no problem coming up with 5min to say about someone who did. Of course, you'd want to be a little more diplomatic than that.
posted by rhizome at 10:04 AM on June 9, 2010

I don't know why you shouldn't mention those things. They are the things he did that made an impact on your life. And he did them because he cared about how you turned out.

Honestly relating that while you may not have been close on a day to day basis he made a difference in your life because he cared enough to do so sounds like exactly the sort of thing you should say. I think the worst thing you could do is resort to banal platitudes or try to adopt an ersatz veneer of sentimentality.
posted by Babblesort at 10:06 AM on June 9, 2010

What about him made him seem like a great guy? What did he do for work? Did his threat to kick your ass have any effect on your snotty 14 year old self? Is there any reason your parents chose him for your godparent? What does "stand-in father" mean? If he has any corny jokes that he was especially known for, throwing one or two in will be good for a nice chuckle to relieve some of the tension.

Talk to your other relatives and see if they can help you fill in the gaps. Just because you're speaking doesn't mean your words are only about your direct experience with him.
posted by amethysts at 10:08 AM on June 9, 2010

If you do give a talk then keep it short, write it down, and chat beforehand with the minister that is giving the service.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:09 AM on June 9, 2010

I'm sorry to hear about your uncle. I can't help but notice that the fact you are already asking this question means you must be a bit concerned about the prospect of speaking.

The truth is that public speaking isn't very complicated. You don't have to go up there and be Obama. Saying a few simple things (i.e. short sentences, straightforward themes) clearly and confidently is often all it takes, and is enough to make the audience feel like they have been in the hands of a pro.

Never think that your jokes or anecdotes have to be your own if you are going to give a good or moving speech. Good speeches that I hear regularly contain jokes or anecdotes shamelessly stolen from others, but if told well and comfortably woven into the thread of the speech, they work wonders.

Talk to your family about him, ask people what their memories are, and then go ahead and use them. "Uncle John was characterised by X. There's no better example of this than the time he and Aunt Jane went to Y..."

And please don't feel like you have to apologise for being up there. You have been asked to do this for a good reason. Tell yourself that if you didn't deserve to be heard, if the fact that you are up there seemed odd to anyone else, then you wouldn't have been asked in the first place.

If still feeling concerned, then nearer the time you might ask how long you will be speaking for, and then ask if you might be able to speak for a bit less - blame sadness or nerves, and I am sure whoever is arranging will understand.
posted by marmaduke_yaverland at 10:15 AM on June 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

My lovely and brilliant wife began, years ago, what has become a tradition for our family funerals. In fact, she is the "go-to" person for eulogies nearly always now. She participates in all the events and non-events attending the family funeral get-together...picking up folks at the airport, picking people up at their hotels, casual dinners and of course, the viewing. She also gets to the funeral early. She asks anyone and everyone who knew the deceased (even neighbors, etc.) to write their most vivid or important memories of him/her into a nice notebook. Then in 15-30 minutes prior to the service, makes notes and arranges the memories into an organization that makes sense. She adds her own feelings and thoughts. Voila! A fabulous eulogy. People can opt to have their name attached to their writings or not...
These have always turned out to be incredibly stirring and apt and never a downer...remembering the really good stuff. The notebook itself usually becomes a keepsake for the next of kin. Nowadays, for me, funerals with conventional eulogies just don't cut it...LOL.
posted by txmon at 10:38 AM on June 9, 2010 [3 favorites]

I wouldn't necessarily discount "the talk" or the ass-kicking. Sometimes stories like that will make a huge difference at a funeral--there's something liberating about being able to laugh amidst grief.

At my grandmother's funeral, someone brought up the fact that she--usually lovely and mild-mannered--got so PO'd at one of her kids at dinner once that she whapped him in the face with a handful of mayonnaise. Everyone loved that.

I once struggled about whether or not I should stand up at a memorial service and tell a slightly off-color story (not embarrassing to the deceased, per se--I had done something that might have been seen as a little dubious and he was completely gracious and charming about it, which colored my opinion of him favorably ever after). I ended up telling the story, and his son said to me afterwards, "Thank you so much for doing that; my father would have been appalled if no one had laughed at his funeral."

I'm sure you can find a way to tell your stories that's in decent taste but highlights your uncle's good qualities (ability to tell it like it is is often a great gift!).
posted by dlugoczaj at 11:03 AM on June 9, 2010

My wife's grandfather asked her to give a speech at her great-aunt's funeral. He would have done it himself, but was unable to make it there. My wife basically gave her own impressions of the lady she didn't know that well, and then read out what her grandfather had told her about her when they were growing up together.

Maybe talk to your uncle's brothers/sisters, or your other cousins and gather some memorable stories and thoughts that you can share?
posted by robotot at 1:56 PM on June 9, 2010

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