Writing my eulogy
I just turned 60. The average U.S. male lives to about 79. I’ll plan to make it well past 100 by following every health and longevity hack on the internet. My three favorites so far: Acai/kale/quinoa/placenta/coconut oil shakes. Wearing onions in my socks overnight. And daily doses of an ancient elixir from Scotland’s isle of Islay, commonly known as Lagavulin 16-year single malt.
Soon enough, Charon, ferryman of Hades, will take my ticket and begin the call for final boarding. So my thoughts turn to the planning, logistics and other gory details of my inevitable passing. I’m not obsessed with death. But I am a planner with a lot to think about.
Since I’m childless and hence lack grasping heirs, I ponder: To whom shall I bequeath my untold riches, vast lands stretching past the horizon, and stockpile of DNA samples stored in a Tupperware in the kitchen freezer next to the Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey?
What worthy archives shall be blessed, and become a global and interplanetary mecca for scholars, with my letters, notes, journals, classified and unclassified emails, Facebook likes, 20,000+ iPhone photos, math-challenged under-tipped restaurant checks, and other revealing insights?
Who shall have the privilege of handling the bidding war for my personal belongings among the Louvre, Sotheby’s, yard sale addicts and College Hunks Hauling Junk?
Above all, what about the eulogy? What will the eulogizer say?
It seems bad manners to wonder, and my clearly damaged therapist suggests it’s a bit controlling. Who cares what people say at our funerals? We’re dead. The ultimate mike drop.
Also, chances of reenacting the Tom Sawyer scene and witnessing/weeping over our own funerals are slim. Unless we faked our deaths for the insurance money and just couldn’t resist slipping by disguised to hear what friends and family really think of us. (Note: Don’t try the Burt Reynolds hairpiece, mustache and chest wig — people will assume you’re doing Ron Burgundy and wonder why.)
Besides, whatever our life crimes, nobody uses funerals to trash the dearly departed. We accentuate the positive. Eulogies for the most evil people in recorded history offered at least a few positive notes. As one comedian said, “Hitler wasn’t that bad a guy. I mean, he did kill Hitler.”
I’m no Hitler. I don’t have the vision, passion, focus and energy to be that evil. Hitler would snot his little mustache chortling at my so-called crimes against humanity. So far, my crimes start and end at driving 76 in a 65 zone. People in my life might suggest a few others.
But also unlike Hitler, I want to help my eulogizers. And I should. Three reasons why:
First, I’m a speechwriter by trade. I often help people who don’t normally speak in public to speak in public. I’ve helped eulogizers with their eulogies. Mostly to give them something to work with, capture, hone and speak their thoughts and feelings, and overcome the speaker jitters. So I should help with my own eulogy.
Second, I especially want to help my selected eulogizer. He’s my longest, utmost best friend of 30+ years, my beloved big brother from another mother, mentor, sage and long-suffering sensei. While he’s older than me, he’ll probably outlive me, given his daily yoga, meditation, locavore goat yogurt, bowel-blasting fibrous diet, and exploration of higher consciousness with his perfect calling in life-coaching. He’s also married to a therapist, so he gets free counseling and plenty of it, which strengthens his emotional health. He knows me better than anyone. So, like it or not, he’s delivering my goddamn eulogy.
Third, as my chosen eulogizer, he definitely needs my help.
Ten years ago, he delivered a well-wrought, lavish toast at my 50th birthday party thrown by my fiancée then. He built his remarks around a metaphor connecting my relationship history with my passion for tennis. He exquisitely captured my complicated, confounding life, perhaps too exquisitely for some in the audience. Most were amused. I was. My fiancée was not.
They worked it out. (Fiancée and I eventually didn’t.)
My point is that whoever’s stuck with the eulogy task, I’d like to suggest a few talking points. Full scripting would come off as too controlling and self-serving. Plus, offering talking points allows the eulogizer to add his own loving, moving, celebratory thoughts and anecdotes.
So the following points are merely guidance:
— As you approach the lectern, stumble and catch yourself as if overwhelmed by grief. Grossly exaggerate the gesture — really chew up the scenery — like a regional theater actor or Kenneth Branagh to make sure everyone gets it.
— On reaching the lectern, melodramatically stifle a wracking sob and pause, really draw it out, as if struggling to pull yourself together. This will allow the mourners to indulge in further wailing, gnashing of teeth, rending of garments and Facebook or Instagram posting of the garment rending.
— To open, key off a stirring quotation that captures and sums my essence. Something like Tecumseh’s “When the legends die, the dreams end; there is no more greatness.” Google “quotes about greatness.” Stay away from Trump’s quotes about himself.
— Refer to my religious piety, e.g., “While he was a passionate, devout agnostic, he found God, accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as his savior, received the sacrament of confirmation and his first holy communion, and confessed his mortal sins and accepted absolution, all in the last three minutes of his life. Just in case.”
— Emphasize my humility: “Nobody was more humble than Jeff. Not Jesus. Not Gandhi. Not St. Teresa of Avila. None had a more squalid basis to be humble than he. He often reminded people of his exceptional humility. Never to boast, but to show them the way.”
— Note my heroism, like how I tugged on Superman’s cape, spit into the wind, and pulled the mask off that ol’ Lone Ranger. But make clear that I never messed around with Jim, because some might read into that.
— Hint at my extreme selfless generosity without raising expectations that anyone there will get a farthing. Because no such farthing exists. Sam’s Liquor and The Tennis Emporium will have taken care of my riches.
— Salt in a bit of humor. People love funny-sad. Such as: “He never had kids, but he loved kids. Baked, fried or especially pan-seared with a splash of balsamic.”
Note: Jokes about death are crowd-pleasers. Google “crowd-pleasing jokes about death.” Like, “He actually choked to death eating Gummy Bears, so let’s just say he was killed by bears and leave it at that.” Or likely more appropriate to my death, “Why do they use sterilized needles for death by lethal injection?”
Feel free to have the mourners rolling in the aisles. But this is not the time to try out new material. And don’t worry about citing the source of Googled death jokes unless my friends who are intellectual property lawyers show up. They’re sticklers.
Beyond these key points, my eulogizer should feel free to elaborate about my preternatural musical talents, including how I taught the world to sing in perfect harmony … the time I lifted a bus off a child even though his prep-school classmates deliberately threw the arrogant little prick under there … and how I was always there for family and friends in times of need. Throw in other lies as needed.
Close with something like how I always wanted to leave the world better than I found it, and quip that I achieved that by dying.
Or, heck, forget all that and, in unison, at the proceedings, sing a song from my favorite band, They Might Be Giants, titled: “When will you die?”
On that promised morning, we will wake and greet the dawn, knowing that your wicked life is over, and that we will carry on.
We’ll exhale. We’ll high-five. We will know at last how great it is to be alive. We’ll be lining up, and buying tickets, and then we’ll be jumping up and down on your grave.
It’s catchy and fun. My bereaved singing a tune from They Might Be Giants would be the best tribute I could hope for. See you there!
Jeffrey Denny is a Washington writer