Most people know what a eulogy is. It is defined as “a speech or piece of writing that praises someone or something highly, typically someone who has just died.” You will hear these highly praising speeches at funerals, highlighting the life of the person who has passed away.
Two years ago, I had the unfortunate honor of giving four eulogies in a twelve-month period. I say honor because it is something very special to be asked to say some final words about another human being before they are laid to rest. I say unfortunate because if you are the one speaking, it means that you are someone that was very close to the person who has passed away, thus making you among the hardest hit by the loss.
I had more than four big losses in that period of time, but the four eulogies I gave were for three of my very closest friends and my wife of eighteen years. It was the toughest time of my life. And giving eulogies creates quite a pressure, as you want to say just the right words, in just the right way. After that fourth eulogy, we got in the car, and my son, not knowing the word eulogy, said, “Dad, I think you are becoming a professional funeral speaker.”
Afterward, there were many people, some I knew, and some I didn’t, that shared stories with me about those that had passed away. Those stories were powerful, moving, and usually involved something the person had done or said that impacted their life significantly. It seemed like every person I talked to had something incredible to say about the person for whom I had done the eulogy.
It struck me that many of these stories involved events, situation, and encounters that were never shared with the one who died. I even had strangers that never personally met the deceased, but with tears in their eyes, shared how grateful they were for that person because of some positive influence he or she had in their life.
This means that many people go to their graves not knowing all the good they did, how many lives they impacted, or how important they really were to so many others. And it dawned on me… what are we waiting for? Why is it that we wait until someone dies before we think about, remember, and share how much they mean to us or how they have influenced our lives.
So, I started to really think about living eulogies. Wouldn’t it be cool to have a large group of friends gather, with each sharing something special about a person to be eulogized… but have them there, and alive, to hear it?
Like many of my great, groundbreaking ideas, someone was way ahead of me. As I wrote this, honestly thinking I was on to something, I realized I couldn’t be the first to think of this. So, I googled living eulogy. Only about ten million results popped up. So, you may have heard of this, or even thought of it, but whenever I’ve shared the idea with someone, they always seem to be excited, surprised, and interested. So, I decided not to scrap this article.
One result on google caught my attention. It was a TEDx talk done by Andrea Driessen, called Eulogies for the Living. Click here to watch/listen. She does a great job sharing this idea, and introduces what she calls grace notes. She says these grace notes are a “purposeful honoring of the living,” and that they are a means of “freely acknowledging someone’s presence and gifts.” And they are much more doable, as they do not require bringing a large group together, and can be written, spoken, recorded as a video or audio, or even as a collage.
One other thing many people shared with me was regret. They regretted not telling the one who passed how they felt, what they meant to them, or about a specific event involving them that was life-altering. So… do grace notes. Or better yet, stop holding back, and start regularly sharing those life-altering, world changing attributes and actions with those that have impacted you… and do it now… while they are alive.