Q. My dear cousin has terminal cancer, and it won’t be long now. We grew up together and have remained friends throughout the years. She’s the one who made sure we never lost touch, despite many moves on my part to other parts of the country and even abroad for a few years. I want to start working on a eulogy for her. I know the basics, but are there any special tips you can give me?


The advice is different depending on who is being eulogized and your relationship. In this case, your heart is involved. You obviously love and value her efforts to keep the relationship going rather than drifting. The best advice I can offer is to dare to peel off the “mask” we all wear to protect ourselves and try to be yourself as you begin writing. If you find your eyes tearing up as you think of her, stop and flag what you’re experiencing. It’s a sign some memory or feeling touched you deeply. Instead of pushing it away, write it down and use it to make her come alive. 


Just expanding on your cousin’s tenacity in keeping in touch with you, no matter where you were, is the stuff of a memorable eulogy. Try to remember your feelings when you heard from her or how you felt after seeing her. The more honest and natural you can be, the more moving your eulogy will be


So often it’s the “little things” that make the person human. Details, details are what count. I recently attended a funeral for an 86-year-old, where a relative eulogized, “I remember her wedding when I was a boy. I thought she was the prettiest woman in the world. She was always young to me. She played tennis long after others had given it up.” Think about the qualities that marked the person, such as generosity to others and the ability to carry on in the face of tragedy. In this case, you might also want to talk about how she confronted death (if appropriate). One eulogizer wrote, “He was not only a great model for how to live, but how to die--with strength and courage.”


Fortunately you have the luxury of time. You don’t have to give the eulogy tomorrow, and you can run some of your thoughts past others for their input. Their own reminiscences may also trigger some of your own.  


If you have a question for Florence, please email her at fisaacs@florenceisaacs.com.


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.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons / re_birf


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