Pre-need question about giving a eulogy.
February 9, 2011 2:07 PM   Subscribe

Pre-need question about giving a eulogy.

Both of my elderly parents are not in great health. Although an only child & living within close proximity to them, I am emotionally distant from them - to make a long story short - by the way I have been dismissed, demeaned & disregarded by them pretty much my entire adult life.

It is likely that one or both will pass away in the not-too-distant future. I have an aunt closer to my age whom they hold in much higher regard & who is capable of making a fine eulogy, when the time should come. For this I am grateful.

However, given the tradition of funerals in the Asian culture, I'm pretty certain there will be some expectation that I speak. It's not the speaking part that catches me up, it's what to say! I want to be respectful to their memories without being superficial.

Someone suggested that I read a poem. Okay, while still being looked at askance by the family, this could suffice but isn't my first choice. Does this amazing community have any other outside-the-box suggestions that I could consider?
posted by PepperMax to Human Relations (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Let your aunt speak, if she's willing to. There's no reason for you to speak at a funeral of a person who was horrible to you.

Alternative: talk about a good childhood memory, if you have one.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:14 PM on February 9, 2011

Talk about the things they have done well, not their parenting. If they loved gardening, go to town on that. If they were solid citizens, that's certainly worthy of praise. If they were avid travelers, talk about that.

Treat the eulogy as if it were for elderly strangers. The time to express your (understandable) feelings of disappointment with their shitty parenting is with your close friends who get it, not at the funeral, which is really "for" the other olds.

Something that I have found often works well is saying "I have so many feelings in my heart that I can't express all of them" (true, yes?) "so I want to tell a story about the time that Mom {something she was actually good at and passionate about, unlike parenting}."

"I have so many feelings in my heart" covers lots of feelings, from love and admiration too overwhelming to express to sorrow and impatience and regret that your parent did a shitty job of parenting you or even of treating you with respect.

I am sorry your parents treated you so poorly. That is a tough legacy for everyone, and I imagine most of all for people in cultural contexts that demand observation of family-centric rituals.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:28 PM on February 9, 2011 [4 favorites]

Clergyperson here.

My biggest piece of advice is this: don't lie. There's nothing worse than a eulogy which is clearly disingenuous, and there's really nothing wrong with opting out from speaking at the funeral. Plenty of people choose not to speak at their parents' funerals, for a variety of reasons (stage fright, ambivalent feelings, weak writing/speaking ability, etc.) so it wouldn't be an obvious diss for you to say no.

That said, if you do decide to speak, there's nothing wrong with saying "things between me and my parents have been complicated over the years," or "things weren't always easy," or something like that. Don't use the pulpit as a therapist's couch, but don't whitewash the truth either.

I'd definitely make a point of at least ending with something positive (were they especially supportive of a particular charity? devoted to their professional life? fond of their pets?). That's really the kind thing to do, I think, and it doesn't necessarily mean betraying all of the difficult ways you feel about a family member.

I'd be happy to help more and share some specific examples if you want; feel free to MeMail me.
posted by AngerBoy at 2:51 PM on February 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Could you explain a bit more about what will be expected of you? How long will you be expected to talk for? How long after the death will the funeral be?
posted by Salamandrous at 6:06 PM on February 9, 2011

I'm respected as a good eulogist in my family (heck, at the last funeral I spoke at, an old neighbor of ours, a crusty old guy who I thought had zero emotions, came up to me with a tear in his eye and said 'I want you to speak at my funeral when the time comes!') and what I found works best of all is this: ask their friends, neighbors and other family members for their favorite or funniest story about each of your parents and let their words be a memorial. You then avoid having to say anything from your perspective, and also give recognition to the people that factored into their lives. This technique has worked very well for me in the past, so much so that I often don't get to tell all the stories I've been given! Mentioning people by name in the eulogy, especially long time friends or people who may have traveled a bit to get there, is also a way to make people feel better at a time of loss.

Again, having the thoughts and words of other people be the eulogy will allow you not to have to reveal anything you don't want to, and will allow you to skip over anything you'd feel is a 'lie' or something you're saying just to be respectful and nice.
posted by kuppajava at 7:46 AM on February 10, 2011

Thank you for your kind & generous thoughts, everyone. I do like the idea of incorporating others' anecdotes & remembrances, especially since my parents have had so few interests or diversions about which I could speak.
posted by PepperMax at 8:35 AM on February 10, 2011

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