When my best friend was at varsity they had an assignment to write their own eulogy. This sounded terribly morose to us as 19-year-olds but now in retrospect, I think the professor was rather wise. It made us realise that we need to live our lives so that we can make an impact and live purposefully. It also reminded our selfishly arrogant younger selves that we all have an expiry date. Our lives are like movies: they all come to an end, sometimes too soon, sometimes devastatingly so, and only when you are fortunate, you get a timeously beautiful ending. Regardless of what happens in your film, at some stage it will stop and the credits will roll.


I am, by default, a regular listener of eulogies. I’d say on average I attend two funerals a month. This last month there were more, so by now, I know a good eulogy when I hear one. Sadly, I have been subjected to a few bad ones too and once, to such a horrific one that it is etched in my memory forever. (It was for a man with a small insurance brokerage and despite the fact that there were three separate eulogies, no one said anything about him as an actual human, only things about his successful business.  They could not have been more dishwater dull if they tried – unless of course you find insurance statistics riveting.)


I have heard some forgettable eulogies, some good ones which got less good because they went on way too long, and really, really bad ones! Eulogies can make or break a funeral and if I wanted to be cheesy and add a bit of black comedy, I could point out that they can put the “fun” in FUNeral. Jerry Springer (the best American comedian in my humble opinion) said that according to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking, and their second biggest fear is death. In other words, most people would rather be in the casket than be the person delivering the eulogy. When my mom turned 80, she had her ‘funeral party’. She said she’d rather see everyone herself than us all gathering for her when she is the guest of honour who is spectacularly absent. It was special as we all got to say our “living eulogies” while she could cherish them.


I’ve often sat on hard church pews listening to moving eulogies thinking, “What the heck! I did not know that?” I’m often amazed at the details of people’s lives of which most of us are unaware, even if we think we know them fairly well.  Hearing things about the dearly departed we didn’t know almost makes the loss harder. If only I knew so and so also loved cats, or if only I realised that he was a good dancer when he was younger……


On Friday I went to a beautiful memorial for my friend, Harriet. The eulogies, odes and letters were simply out of this world. They were heartfelt and well-written and captured the essence of the person to whom we were saying goodbye perfectly. In fact, I desperately wished that Harriet could have heard these eulogies. I doubt that she had any idea of the impact she had on the world she left so unfairly and way too soon.


Almost exactly a month before her admission to hospital, Harriet and I met each other for lunch. It was a random weekday, at a random, ugly Joburg strip mall where we quickly met for a salad. She told me she should really have cancelled as she forgot she had a check-up with a doctor but she didn’t because she decided  it was better to have a quick catch up rather than postpone our date. I am so glad she did not cancel, but also so wish I made more of that simple quick lunch. If only I knew it was going to be the last one, I’d have valued it so much more. The reality for people living with life threatening diseases is that you are always balancing on the precipice of morality and even though you might not want to, you often evaluate your life. Her illness paused things and we chatted about how it frustrated her that she was not impacting lives like she wanted to. Throughout the many eulogies at her memorial, I sat back wishing she could hear them and so that I could somehow tell her: “I told you so, look at what they are all saying, look at all these people here – JUST FOR YOU!”.


Garrison Keillor said, “They say such nice things about people at their funerals that it makes me sad to realise I’m going to miss mine by just a few days”. This is what I thought on Friday. Harriet would have LOVED her memorial. Her friends went to town. There was the best food, best champagne (as in Moet!), gorgeous flowers that filled every corner, and after the ceremony, there was a great party. I could imagine her rolling her beautiful blue eyes and with her razor sharp wit saying “Such a bloody waste, you throw me a great party on the one day you know I can’t come”. It was a beautiful time, but what will stand out forever in my memory is the eulogies. Every single one was a true reflection of who she was and what she meant to us, how she loved, how she lived, what she stood for.


I leave you with a quote by Nancy Cobb, who describes the reason we have eulogies perfectly: “Remembering is an act of resurrection, each repetition a vital layer of mourning, in memory of those we are sure to meet again”.