In my view, a eulogy should never be compared to a CV. It’s not enough to make a bullet-point list of achievements and top or tail it with a poem – or at least, I’d be disappointed if someone did that for me – and a long list may not exist in the first place. . .
Recently, I was asked to write a eulogy for someone who – on the face of it – hadn’t achieved very much in his lifetime.
He’d not held down a job for more than a few weeks; that was a matter of fact. He’d drawn benefits for most of his life; another well-publicised topic of conversation in the village where he lived. He’d kept local glaziers occupied, solicitors busy, and the police station even busier. People living near-by double-locked their cars as a matter of course. He didn’t have any family to speak of and his health had declined rapidly after developing a close friendship with Messrs Johnnie Walker & Co. He was – a bit of a social misfit.
I was asked to get involved by someone who’d overheard a roughly-shod comment about this man (let’s call him ‘Sam’), shortly after his body had been discovered. It was a passing comment, along the lines of “You know old cheeky-chops? Mr. Waste-of-Space in the corner flat? He’s gone. Now there’s a funeral that won’t take long. . . “
The eavesdropper, such as he was, had the presence of mind to search for eulogy writers online. He found me, and offered to pay me to write a full eulogy for Sam.
I don’t make a habit of turning down money – I’m a pragmatic, bill-paying professional after all – but this time I did refuse to take any payment. I explained that, even if I wrote Sam the most exquisite lifetime’s lament, a public health funeral would offer little opportunity for any words to be read.
The Good Samaritan understood, but asked if I would still write something. It didn’t matter that a ‘proper’ service wouldn’t take place.
Having witnessed such a lack of feeling and compassion among his fellow man, he had been touched in a way that he couldn’t quite explain – and felt he had to do something for Sam, for his own sanity and peace of mind. At which point, my own sense of humanity kicked in, and we agreed that I would write something, he would make a donation to Messrs BP or Shell; he’d drive a printed copy of the words to A Good Place with A Grand View – and he’d read them out loud, to let them be carried away on wind or rain; soaked up by sunshine; or left as echoes on a hillside somewhere.
I won’t share the eulogy here. Somehow, words that will not be heard seem to be more private than most. But I will tell you that anyone who can be referred to as ‘cheeky chops’ will have brought a smile to people’s faces, somehow, in their lives. And in, or out, of context, if the net effect of one man’s life was to instil such insistent generosity in another’s – that is not a life wasted, by any manner or means.