It's a privilege to be asked to speak at a loved one's funeral or memorial - and it can also be one of the most stressful moments of your life. What do you say? Is it okay to be funny? How do you avoid awkward moments? Just be glad you won't be on as big a stage as the one to the left....
In my family, I sort of became the Eulogiser over the years, because I wrote and spoke well and because other people were just too uncomfortable. If you know my story, you may wonder if I said something at my Mom's funeral - I did, but I could not possibly tell you what it was. It was overwrought and hysterical, and I have fortunately blocked it out. I was too heartbroken and off kilter to gather my thoughts. But I spoke at both grandfathers', as well as my stepmother's, and finally Dad's funerals. They were all pretty doleful and somber, though I did mention some humorous anecdots in each - it helps lift the grey a bit.
My friend Linda's funeral, or homegoing, was another thing entirely. It was in the Bronx in a Jehovah's Witness church. And it was a foot-stompin', preachin' and raise the roof celebration of her and her amazing life. It was very liberating to speak at that service and to remember her with laughter and joy and more than one Amen!
So should you speak at a funeral? That is entirely up to you. It's tough to get perspective when the deceased is as close as a parent, spouse or child, so I would never presume that someone MUST speak. Be guided by your heart and what you are up to handling. Asking a trusted friend to speak for you may also be an option.
Then, what do you say?
Here are a few things I have learned:
- try to strike a balance between quotes and stories of your loved one, and more personal reflections.
- keep that person in mind and what reflected them - were they quiet or boisterous? what did they enjoy doing? what made them laugh?
- I think humor is totally ok, in the right context. Stories that might embarrass someone may best be left out, so use a bit of discretion. Folks may be uncomfortable enough as it is.
- take a deep breath before you start to settle your nerves - this is tough stuff and can be emotional. If you get caught up in a sad place, that's totally fine, take a moment and start back up when you can - or ask someone else to read for you.
- Whatever you are going to say, write it down - your mind may go blank....again, totally fine, just do what you can to forestall it.
As with anything surrounding funerals and memorials, there may be someone who whispers or mutters about what you should or shouldn't be saying. There is a great deal of conflict about whether a funeral is for the deceased or the folks who are still here. It really is a combination of the two, and it can be tricky to honor them both in the same event. But it is quite doable.
Above all, speak from the heart and you will do fine. It is also okay if you don't do fine and have to hand your speech off to someone else. Do the best you can - that's all you can ask of yourself.
As always, if I can offer support on this or any other topic, do get in touch at YouCanHealYourGrief@gmail.com.