Sunday, December 10, 2006

Fond farewells - all about eulogies

There is an interesting article about the art of writing and delivering eulogies in The San Diego Union-Tribune newspaper today. The link is here (I'm not sure how permanent it is).

The article tells about Cyrus Copeland, who wrote a book in 2004 called "Farewell, Godspeed" with 64 eulogies of famous people, and now has a sequel called "A Wonderful Life" with 50 eulogies.

His best advice for writing a eulogy is:

“People think eulogies are dour, tear-streaked things, but they're not,” Copeland said in a phone interview from New York, where he lives. “The good ones are frequently very inspiring and occasionally very funny.”

But what makes a good one? Copeland offered some tips:

Open strongly. “If you start with 'Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today' you might as well give the audience a sleeping pill,” Copeland said. “That kind of opening is a testament to the lack of creativity that is sure to follow.”

As an example of an opening line that grabs the audience's attention, he cited Madonna's eulogy for Gianni Versace, the fashion designer: “I slept in Gianni Versace's bed.”

Be truthful. There's nothing worse than a snow job that makes the guy out to be a saint when everybody knows he wasn't, Copeland said. It's OK to mention foibles, because they highlight our shared humanity, he added.

Tell stories. “We all want to know our presence made a difference in people's lives,” Copeland said, “and telling stories is one way to show that imprint.”

The article has sidebars, including one for the shortest eulogy:

Rev. Louis Saunders offered a one-sentence farewell to an assassin: "Mrs. Oswald tells me her son Lee Harvey was a good boy and that she loved him, and today, Lord, we commit his spirit to your divine care."

The best eulogy for a matinee idol:
Larry Gelbart on Gregory Peck: "For openers, he had the kind of face that belonged on money."

The most brutally honest:
Rev. Howard Moody, talking about comedian Lenny Bruce: "There are three characteristics of his that I recall: his destructiveness, his unbearable moralism, and his unstinting pigheadedness."

Interesting and useful article. Having written eulogies for my mother, two aunts, an uncle and a cousin, I tend to concentrate on the good things about the person, with lots of adjectives. I need to add some stories, I guess.

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