Q. Is it okay to tell a funny story in a eulogy? I would like to do so at my cousin’s funeral, but I wonder whether people might be offended. What do you think? Are there rules to follow?
A funeral is no time for stand-up comedy. But humor leavened with compassion does have a place on this occasion. The goal is not to entertain, but to share meaning and capture the person your cousin was—in a way likely to elicit chuckles or wistful smiles from those assembled in the audience. This kind of humor combines honesty with compassion, and is actually a welcome respite that eases the tension and anxiety everyone feels. It’s great to be able to laugh at something the deceased did or said, and you certainly can recall conversations and incidents, or provide insights that will touch people.
Your question led me to recall my own beloved aunt who died several years ago. If I was giving a eulogy for her today, I would focus on her contradictions. For example, she could be very rigid and had a “clean streak.” I’d say something like, “My aunt always had white carpet on the floor of her apartment. When I and other children in the family visited her, we had to remove our shoes and leave them outside the front door.” I can picture a number of people nodding their heads in agreement and laughing. I would add that my aunt was also the first to be there for me at times of disappointment or trouble.
In addition to personality quirks, the deceased’s odd hobbies or obsessions may also provide a treasury of material. Was she was a Ph.D. in physics who was addicted to TV reality shows—or collected comic books? Maybe he was a plumber—and an accomplished ballroom dancer. Think, too, about funny “little” moments that loom large, like the time he or she helped you negotiate the price of a used car and saved you lots of money. Such stories enrich everyone with lasting, comforting memories.
After you’ve written your eulogy, consider running it past someone you trust for another opinion. Humor can be tricky, and you want to make sure it works. Remember to keep the eulogy brief, as well. As a rule of thumb, figure five to seven minutes. You’d be surprised how much you can say in that time.
If you have a question for Florence, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Florence Isaacs is the author of several books on etiquette, including My Deepest Sympathies: Meaningful Sentiments for Condolence Notes a.... She writes two advice blogs for Legacy.com: Sincere Condolences and Widow in the World, a new blog for bereaved spouses and partners.
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