On Christmas Eve, while you were wrapping gifts or tearing through the mall or baking or just waiting in anticipation, I was delivering a eulogy. It wasn’t my first and I doubt it’ll be my last.
The death of my cousin was not unexpected in that he had spent the better part of his 57 years as an alcoholic. What was shocking was the short time?just a week?between his admission to the hospital and his death. That week allowed his mother and younger brother, indeed all of us, to get used to the idea that some fights can’t be won.
With no wife or children to nag him to seek help, it was essentially all over by the time he saw a doctor. He had avoided doctors and hospitals all his life, as was his right. And while we may question his decisions, it is not our role to do so. We need to accept and respect his choices just as we would want ours respected.
I’m not surprised that my mom and my aunt kept a daily vigil, but I am surprised how my kids and some of their cousins made time to visit Terry. It is not easy to stare into the face of imminent death, but they did it; and I believe those of us who were there are wiser and more compassionate because of it. Because my aunt lives an hour away, Hilary was asked to be there when the priest came to do last rites. That experience can change a life; the cycle of life is made manifest.
When I am asked to write and deliver a eulogy, the answer is always yes. I consider it an honour and a privilege; so too, this time. While the circumstances of a death and the details of a life are always different, my process is the same.
I pray about it and ask for the wisdom to find the right words. I look through my library of resources. I start it, then leave it. I pace the house and do mindless stuff. That, more than anything else, seems to make the words come. I read it a dozen times.
My goal is to capture the essence of the person, to tell the truth and to bring comfort to those hearing the words. And not one of those things is easy. Summing up a life in a few hundred words is not easy. Avoiding embellishment or rewriting of history to keep the deceased recognizable also is not easy. Because we are all flawed and death doesn’t turn any of us into saints, it means acknowledging the best and the worst and finding a balance. It means really understanding what, in the end, is important. I guess the third part, bringing comfort, happens if I get the other two right.
Yet despite the difficulty, to have the family and others thank me and to have people request a copy of the eulogy makes me believe I did my job after all, from where I sit.
Hazel Anaka’s first novel is Lucky Dog. Visit her website for more information or follow her on Twitter @anakawrites.