A Eulogy to Remember

When I was learning to be a funeral celebrant over 20 years ago, one of my favourite books was, A Book of Eulogies; edited with commentary by Phyllis Theroux. (Scribner 1997).

There are many yellow sticky markers throughout the pages noting favourite phrases and intriguing perspectives. I was inspired by the diversity that a eulogy could embrace. I revisited the book recently and offer some excerpts here.

Robert A. Reed wrote in the eulogy for Rev. James Reeb,

Jim loved life more than most people do. He was always ready with a story, a stunt, or a smile. He was quick to laugh or clown. His enthusiasm and exuberance were contagious. He never met a stranger; he never met a human being he did not try to like. His spirit was as big as the mountains and the out-of-doors he loved so well. Emerson said, “Let the measure of time be spiritual, not mechanical. Life is unnecessarily long. Moments of insight, of fine personal relation, a smile, a glance – what ample borrowers of eternity these may be. There are men who live and give and feel more in ten minutes than others do in ten years.” Jim was one of these.’

Robert went on to say, ‘Jim not only enjoyed life more than most men, he was also more serious than most. Even in his teens he thought more, cared more, believed more. He found many things about this world which he wanted to change…’

Reed’s use of alliteration, imagery, quotes and contrast throughout his eulogy for his friend, Jim, engaged me in a way that although I did not know Jim, I wished I had.

There are many stories and eulogies in this book filled with beauty and heartbreak. Robert Ingersoll, wrote this metaphor about his brother, Clark,

‘This brave and tender man in every storm of life was oak and rock,

but in the sunshine he was vine and flowers.’

Theroux also includes some classic funeral poems like this one by Henry Scott Holland.

Death is nothing at all.
I have only slipped away to the next room.
I am I and you are you.
Whatever we were to each other,
That, we still are.Call me by my old familiar name.
Speak to me in the easy way
which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.Laugh as we always laughed
at the little jokes we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me. Pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word
that it always was.
Let it be spoken without effect.
Without the trace of a shadow on it.Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same that it ever was.
There is absolute unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind
because I am out of sight? I am but waiting for you.
For an interval.
Somewhere. Very near.
Just around the corner.
All is well.