I’d first like to apologize for neglecting my blog this past week but unfortunately my family lost my Poppy to a year long battle of lung cancer last week. I was especially close to my Poppy because my mom had me at the ripe young age of 17 so I lived with my grandparents until I was about 10 years old. Because my Poppy was not a religious man and I’m the oldest of his grandchildren and the closest to him, my mom and I decided that we would deliver the eulogy on behalf of his children and grandchildren. I wanted to share my writing process with you all because it’s hard to know where to start when writing a eulogy – especially if, like me, you’ve never written one before. I really struggled to find the right words and spent about 5 hours cumulatively writing my Poppy’s eulogy. I hope that what I’ve learned can help someone else.
Writing a eulogy is really difficult. You’re charged with the task of summing up a life lived in just a few, short, important minutes. On top of the fact that you’re already grieving, it can be a really emotional process in itself. But, keep in mind that delivering a eulogy is an honor and when you realize that, it gives you the strength to write a damn good eulogy, and you may be surprised that it also gives you the strength to get in front of a room of maybe 100-200 people and give a great speech even if public speaking isn’t your thing.
A few tips:
1) Start as soon as possible. It’s difficult to do, but having at least 2 or 3 days early on to draft (you’ll probably have multiple drafts) can help fine tune your eulogy and it gives you a little extra time to dig deep and really think about what memories you’d like to include.
2) Include a proper mix of laughs and nostalgia. Ideally, you’ll have the room laughing in certain moments and crying during others. You don’t want your eulogy to be all doom and gloom and if you have a funny story that really captures the essence of who that person was, don’t hesitate to include it. When doing my own research I read that you don’t want to smile or laugh while delivering your eulogy, but you want your eulogy to show attendees who this person was and how much they meant to you so at least in my case, the more smiling – the better.
3) Be honest and true in your representation of the deceased. For example, my Poppy was not a religious man, so it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to include a prayer or a poem because if my Poppy had been alive and in that room that day, he would have been mumbling for me to shut my trap and get to the good stuff.
4) It’s not about you. While it’s important to include memories and experiences you’ve had with your loved one, a eulogy is supposed to be a celebration of the life they lived – not yours.
5) Practice, practice, practice. It’s good to read your speech over and over in your private time so that you can begin to try to de-sensitize yourself from the words you will be sharing on a very emotional day. It will not only help prevent you from blubbering your whole way through the speech (which is fine too!), but you’ll feel more confident getting up there and delivering your darndest.
6) I was fortunate that my mother and I shared the eulogy process. She was able to speak to my Poppy’s younger years and his life as a kid, then as a husband and lastly as a father. I was able to speak to his emotional-being and his relationship with his grandkids. For those of you who are delivering the entire eulogy yourself, aim for it to be in the 15 minute range and try to include details from their entire life and avoid only speaking about who they were in the time you knew them.
And now, in case you’re in need of an example or some inspiration or if you’d care to learn about the wonderful individual who is my Poppy, here it is:
My Poppy’s Eulogy
Hi, I’m Kate Bishop and I’m the oldest of Lanny’s 5 grandchildren. There’s myself, Aspen, Emily, Kurt, and Jake. We all love him dearly and I’d like to say a few things in memory of our Poppy.
Our Poppy was not your traditional sweater-wearing, tea-sipping grandfather. In fact, he was way better. He loved to smoke and drink and watch golf and he loved to make inappropriate jokes – not exactly the traits that come to mind when you think of a sweet, old Poppy. But whether he meant to or not, he unknowingly taught his grandchildren a lot. For starters, he expanded our vocabulary; of course in the way that they don’t teach you at school. He and my Grammy turned a new generation of music lovers onto Neil Diamond. He relentlessly poked fun at our parents, which we of course appreciated and took notes. Above all else, he made us laugh; at him, at ourselves, at our situations – and it always felt good.
I remember feeling totally devastated when I learned that Poppy had cancer, and that he had anywhere from a few weeks to a year to live. My head was spinning, spilling over with all of these terrible ideas about what would happen to him and to our family. I cried a lot at first, but things changed when I saw him for the first time after learning the news. I was shocked and relieved to find that not much had changed. Of course, he had cancer and of course, it put a strain on my grandmother and my family, but my Poppy’s brash, quirky, and infectious spirit remained. Even when he started chemo and lost his hair – it didn’t feel sad like I anticipated. Instead, without his hair, we were able to laugh that the biggest change seemed to be that now he just looked like Yoda. Even hooked up to his oxygen tank, he joked about having me sneak him a cigarette and I thought he must be crazy. But our Poppy was a one-of-a-kind individual and just in being who he was, he taught us how important it is to live our lives the way we want, and that we shouldn’t apologize for it.
I was fortunate to grow up at my Grammy and Poppy’s house, and I’m lucky enough to have memories of enjoying the menial things in life with him like eating breakfast and watching TV together. I remember him begrudgingly allowing me to take his order when I played pretend waitress, and I remember the surprise and joy on his face when I actually delivered a warm soft pretzel. Surprisingly, one of my favorite memories I have of my Poppy taught me about about love. At the time, what I knew about love was limited to Disney films and I noticed that my Poppy and Grammy didn’t have the sort of epic romance I was used to seeing. But I very distinctly remember going into the open garage on a rainy day one summer to grab a soda and my Poppy and Grammy were sitting on white plastic chairs, watching the rain. They weren’t holding hands, or even talking, but they were together, and that was enough. And it was then that I got it. Love doesn’t always need to be loud and in your face, and it’s maybe even better when it’s not. That was my Poppy’s way of love, and I so appreciate and aspire to have that quiet kind of love someday.
A lot of the memories I have of my Poppy are of him wearing only his underwear and knee high socks, hair a mess – yelling for me to simmer down – a beautiful picture, I know. But what you may not know is that my Poppy was the man who cried the hardest at weddings, who let me sit on his lap while he mowed the lawn, and who kept Tastykakes hidden in his TV stand and would share them with his grandkids.
My favorite memories of Poppy though, are from when my family and when Beesh’s family would get together at their house on the weekends to watch football, eat my Grammy’s crabcakes, and on the best of nights – sing karaoke. All of the grandkids would pile onto the dance floor and while Poppy never graced us with his belly dancing skills, he always admired little Kurt’s break dancing and was great to talk to in between songs. But it was when Sweet Caroline would come on that his true spirit showed. There he was – singing along, hands in the air, enjoying being surrounded by his family. The energy in that room in that moment is completely indescribable, and I will never, ever forget it.
Many of you probably don’t know my Poppy as a lovey-dovey kind of man, but we do. As the night would come to a close, all of us would start scrambling to distract our parents from leaving and he would snag whichever one of us was running by his chair. Then he’d mumble some nearly unintelligible joke, talk about how proud he was of us but then would end with a very serious ‘I love you, do you know that?’ And we’d say ‘of course of course’, and smile and roll our eyes, but then he’d reply with something like, ‘well I know I joke around but I’m not kidding. I love you a lot.’ And he meant it, and we know it.
And how lucky are we to have that love with our Poppy?