The best eulogies are packed with stories. Stories allow for the listener to feel something about the person.
- Be detailed. It makes the story more believable.
- Express how the person added value to your life.
- Add what you liked to do together. Be specific about a particular visit.
- Describe what you learned from them. Share their wisdom.
If you are having a hard time finding a story to write about, look through photographs to trigger memories. Read eulogies from others, and notice what you like and what you don’t like. Notice when you are moved to laughter or tears.
Here is tribute I wrote about my best friend from college who died from brain cancer at the age of 58:
On our first day at Barnard, I endearingly called Susan Scheman, Sushi, combining the first syllable of her first and last name. Because I wanted to remake myself at college, I changed my name from Eva, a name I associated with old Jewish women, to the more sophisticated-sounding Ava, which only lasted 2 weeks at college. However, for Sushi, the name stuck.
Every Thursday, we went to The Plex on campus at 9PM, the minute it opened. We had the floor to ourselves, joyfully dancing to the DJ’s selections, telling our story through our movements, releasing stress, and moving in and out of a conversation through dance. When students began to mosey in around 10:15, we dabbed our sweat with a towel, and left full of energy despite how much energy we exerted.
This last year, the innate wisdom and intellect Sushi possessed resonated to the moon and back. On our last visit in late August, we blew Covid kisses to one another and she sang, “Oh, what a beautiful morning..” (Oklahoma).Yes, it is beautiful to have time with a friend, especially since it would probably be the last time we would see one another in this world. Her confident stentorian voice rang out filling the empty space between us. When we saw one another, it was dinner and a Broadway show. After the general exchanges about how everyone is, I said, Sushi, tell me about you.
What better way to respond than in a song: “I am who I am I am my own special creation.” (La Cage Aux Folles). She was saying, life is neither fair nor unfair; it just Is. Also, I took away that she felt whole and complete. Tears.
Are you feeling sad? I ask.“I am the antithesis of sad,’ she replied with her pitch rising. “Habit is a powerful thing.”Oh that was deep: Create your happiness. She was a perfect example of how to do that.
Are you worried about anything? I ask. She was quick to answer, “I have no anxiety whatsoever. I feel serenity, surrender, beauty, healing energy. I can’t do downward dog, but my yoga practice is limber, my breathing, my mind/body connection, It doesn’t feel like a fight. It feels seamless. Like a flow. Like yoga. This is power.” She was a triathlete, and did not only have a core strength and a powerful intellect (graduated law school), but on this day, I witnessed her intrinsic emotional power, too. I was star struck; like I was sitting with the next Buddha or Mother Theresa.
When I endured treatments for stage IV oral cancer, 24 years ago, I hid my anger, questions of god, my pain under a mask because I didn’t want to lay even more on the people who were caring for me. But Sushi, as she became weaker physically, she became stronger mentally. She was a master at keeping the flow of positivity running through her veins, which bred more positive energy around her. She inherently knew that we lose power when we give fear a voice.
Then, from her reclined position, she sat up straighter, and broke out into another song, “The Wind Beneath My Wings.” Her long arms soaring, her torso dancing, her smile invincible. She was saying, in essence, that she had no fear of dying. Who isn’t afraid of dying?!?!?!?! After this visit, I found an answer: someone who isn’t afraid of loving. Sushi loved so many people, so many causes, so many life experiences, she wasn’t afraid to love everyone and everything fully. Love is what allowed her to feel at peace and to be joyously curious about what happened next in her life.
“Ava Babe, she said, Jesse Lil is the name of my machine. My grandmothers are with me.” Her spirituality stirred my innards like chicken soup when you have a cold. She wasn’t doing this alone. She was going from one realm of love to another. She wasn’t imprisoned by her failing body. She, her essence, her soul, was free!
In college, Sushi gave me a Khalil Gibran poem, framed, entitled ‘On Laws’. Now, the poem makes so much more sense to me than it did when she gifted it to me at the age of 19. It speaks about those who “stand with their back toward the sun, and what is the sun but a caster of shadows?” Susan had her face to the sun and never looked in the direction of the shadows. She went to bed early so she could awaken when the sun rose.
When you love a person, your hearts are merged. A piece of my heart will rest with her, yet a piece of hers, fills that gap in me. May my college bestie be healed, whole and renewed.
Let’s dialogue about what you love to hear in a eulogy and any challenges you may be having in writing one. I’m happy to help!