I appreciated my writing ability more than I ever thought possible, when in March 2016 I wrote and performed my younger brother’s eulogy. Much like a performing artist, what makes a good writer, one that our fellow humans will respond to, is fearlessness and authenticity. While I knew writing my brother’s eulogy was going to be difficult I knew in the marrow of my bones it was going to be my privilege and my gift to him. I have in the past written and performed my mother’s and my maternal grandmother’s eulogies, so I knew that if I could get through it, an exalted sense of closure would be my reward. Ajay was only thirty-five and I had placed upon myself extra responsibility to do a good job for my father, who as you can imagine was the person I was most worried about. Dad gave me one direction, he said ‘Don’t make it about me or dwell on his (decade long) illness’. This one remark was invaluable – the essence of a eulogy should not be about the speakers grief or on behalf of someone’s else grief; apart from introducing your relationship to the deceased at the beginning, the eulogy should remain focussed on celebrating the deceased person’s life, leaving any purely personal note short and at the end.
In hindsight I was grateful that we had a little extra time from what’s normally the case because Ajay had made a detour to the coroner before his service – for some routine tests due to him being so young and dying at home. It was comforting to hear from our funeral home representative and our private celebrant, Anne Young, who I couldn’t recommend highly enough, that there is never a need to rush the scheduling of a service, and that there was no reason in our case why Ajay’s service could not be booked for two weeks hence. This would allow the coroner plenty of time and remove any conjecture on the date. Nevertheless, it took me until two days before his service before I found my space – I had a late afternoon nap and started writing at 11.00pm, finishing at 3.00am. I stepped outside the following morning at 7.30am, relieved but bedraggled and incredibly sad and puffy to drive my son to the bus stop. I was greeted by the most beautiful morning sky I have ever seen in suburbia. It was a Toy Story sky at sunrise, with great bands of sunlight emanating from the horizon like an iconic image on a festival poster. At once I knew Ajay was with me right there on the path. I choked up a sob of joy steeped in grief. He was sending me a message, ‘Well done, you got it done, good job, and thank you.’
Later, while munching on a sandwich at Ajay’s funeral, much relieved the service had gone well I had a tap on the shoulder from another (not our own) uniformed funeral-home director. He introduced himself and apologised immediately for interrupting me but said he felt compelled to come and talk to me. He explained that while he wasn’t eavesdropping on Ajay’s service, he could hear the audio as the microphone traveled beyond the chapel into other parts of the building. He said he wanted to tell me that he had heard hundreds of eulogies and that the one I had done for Ajay was one of the best.
It got me thinking that if a grieving family can hire a private celebrant to MC a service within a funeral home or anywhere else for that matter, why can’t people hire a bonafide writer to help them compose the eulogy? It is after all a key component to a service and a daunting exercise for most people; you would not be alone if the thought of writing a eulogy added another layer of stress to the prospect of performing one. What to do? Find someone who can help – and they don’t need to know the deceased – it will be a collaboration of what you want to say with a helping hand of a writer – your memories and your stories. And if there is no one in your circle up to the task – seek out a professional. Performing a well set out eulogy will not only enhance the service for all the mourners present but should leave you feeling accomplished, honoured, and privileged to have contributed to your loved one’s goodbye.
Rest in everlasting peace Ajay.