Over the years, I have, sadly, had more than one occasion to be audience to or a participant in eulogies at memorial services for people who have passed away; most recently, my oldest brother.
What do people REALLY think of you?
Listening to the things said about the dearly departed got me thinking: What if my eulogy were today--what would people say about me? It made me wonder if maybe I’d like to have a memorial service now, before I die, to see just what people would say. Just think about it; if we knew today how people see us, maybe we’d change some things while we still have time.
A bit of research on eulogies reveals that the word is of Greek origin, meaning “good word.” Generally, only good words are said about a person at their eulogy.
I guess giving a eulogy is sort of like giving job references; do you know anybody who ever gave out “bad” references? I don’t. I mean, are you going to give out the name and number of that boss who just couldn’t stand your guts?
So it’s the same with a eulogy. Normally a family member or very close friend--and presumably someone who got along well with the deceased--is the presenter, and normally they say only good things.
They often relate stories that epitomize the positive or endearing qualities that, to them anyway, gave the recently departed a favored-person status.
Those stories, though slanted heavily toward the attractive qualities and circumventing the unattractive, might surprise the eulogized person if he or she were there to hear it. They might be surprised at the things that people remember about them, the things that drew other people to them.
On the flip side, the eulogized person might be surprised to hear some of the things that are being said off-camera, away from the microphone, by people talking in little cliques around the room before and after the eulogy.
Those might be the conversations that would provide “the rest of the story.” That information might complete the picture and present the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Further research into the origins of the eulogy reveals that, indeed, eulogies are presented for the living at certain events such as retirements or even birthdays; on those occasions they are normally called things like “roast” or “parody.”
I think, maybe, I’d prefer my “eulogy” while I’m still alive and kicking to see what people are saying about me. But I am not really comfortable being present when people are talking about me, so I think I’d like to watch the whole thing from a remote location, via a covert closed circuit TV system.
See, that way I can be like the spirit of the eulogized, hovering above the crowd, listening to what they’re saying when I’m not in the room. That way, I can hear what people really think about me and, hey, who knows, there’s a chance that maybe I might decide to change certain things about me.
Of course, this could be a dual-edged and very sharp sword; I might not like all that I hear.
Oh, I feel pretty sure that there would be some good things said: “Yeah, he was a good friend, give you the shirt off his back if you needed it” or “He worked hard and always gave 110 percent.”
I definitely know there would be plenty of humorous stories about stupid stuff I’ve done.
But I wonder what people would be saying in the little huddles around the room, in groups of two or three, heads close together whispering, glancing around to make sure nobody else can hear.
I wonder; if I could zoom in with my remote camera and turn up the volume, would I hear about some things I did that weren’t so great--maybe someone I wronged but didn’t realize it?
I wonder if I could move around the room and listen in on the conversations, would I like what I hear; or would I learn something about myself that made me embarrassed, or regretful, or ashamed.
As painful as it might be, would it be instructive to know the whole story? I think so.
So, here’s my draft plan; let me know what you think.
At my next birthday ending in zero or five, I’m going to set up a “eulogy” for myself--maybe call it a roast so I don’t freak anybody out. Cocktails at 6, dinner at 7, roast to begin about 7:30.
As the crowd gathers and the cliques begin to form, I will be hovering, spirit-like, via my closed circuit system; listening, collecting data--good, bad, ugly.
As dinner begins, I’ll have my master of ceremonies announce that I have been unavoidably delayed and I asked that they start the event without me.
At the appropriate time, the MC will begin the roast. I will listen to all the prepared speeches, all the off-mike stuff, all the things intended and unintended, and take copious notes.
Then, as the MC is giving his closing remarks, apologizing for the guest of honor’s absence, I will burst in the back door resplendent in a black-tie tuxedo, shouting, “Let’s get this party started,” waving to the applauding crowd like a parade grand marshal.
I will take the microphone, thank everyone for their kind comments I was sure they’d made in my absence, and tell them all why friends, family, and acquaintances such as they are important to me.
I will apologize to those I’ve wronged and promise to try to do better in the future.
I will pledge to be a better person, a better friend, a better family member, a better business associate, a better citizen.
Then I will steal a line from Toby Keith and proclaim “Beer For My Men, Whiskey For My Horses,” cue the music, and proceed to mingle among the crowd.
When I shared a version of this idea with my just-turned-18-year-old son, he brought me back down to Earth by asking, “Dad, what if nobody shows up?”
Hmmm. I may need to re-think this. Any views from the Week-Enders?
Randy Gaddo, a retired Marine who also served for 15 years in municipal parks and recreation, is now a full-time photojournalist who lives in Peachtree City, Ga.; he can be reached at (678) 350-8642 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.