Today I will eulogize a beloved friend who recently passed away. It’s a honor but also a challenge. How does one summarize or even remotely adequately reflect on an entire life? How does a eulogist show sensitivity to the diverse emotional planes upon which mourners in the audience exist: Some in shock, some at peace, some grieving actively, others reflective and grateful that they had such a friend or parent or sibling or spouse?
As preparation, I spent a fair amount of time learning how other eulogists have engaged the task. Two markedly different, markedly well done examples made the strongest impression on me.
The first was by Pulitzer Prize winner William Allen White, a major literary figure in his day but not well known today. The horrid occasion was the death of his young daughter Mary. You can read all of this classic American essay here; this is the closing paragraph:
A rift in the clouds in a gray day threw a shaft of sunlight upon her coffin as her nervous, energetic little body sank to its last sleep. But the soul of her, the glowing, gorgeous, fervent soul of her, surely was flaming in eager joy upon some other dawn.
At the other end of every spectra is John Cleese giving the perfect irreverent sendoff to his comedy writing partner Graham Chapman. My favorite line: “Anything for him but mindless good taste”.