30 Days to a Better Man Day 21: Write Your Own Eulogy

by Brett & Kate McKay on June 20, 2009 · 16 comments

in 30 Days to a Better Man

gravestone.jpg

Image by csmcjunkins

It’s something all of us have imagined at one time or another. What would it be like to die and attend our own funeral? Who would be there? How many people would come? Will the woman who spurned our love be devastated and finally realize how great we were? Will someone you thought you were close with be surprisingly composed?

And of course the thing we wonder about most is this: What will people say about me? What will people remember about my life and how I treated them? How will I be eulogized?

Today we’re going to take these imagined musings one step farther. We’re going to write our own eulogies. It may at first blush sound a little morbid, but we all must confront our mortality from time to time. Our society does a bang up job of hiding death from our view and many of us live in a state of denial about the fact that we’ll one day be pushing up daisies. But we all will. Acknowledging this fact can help us concentrate on living each day with purpose. Even if we live until we’re 9o, that day will arrive faster they we can imagine. Life is short: carpe diem!

How to Write Your Own Eulogy

Of course you can’t come up with your own eulogy without knowing how to write one in general. Many of us probably don’t have much or any experience in eulogy writing. So let’s go over some basic guidelines for one.

There are several different formats a eulogy can take, and were we writing a real eulogy, you would want to take some time to come up with memories and humorous stories to weave into your speech. But for our purposes today, we’re going to keep our DIY eulogies simple and straightforward.

The easiest kind of eulogy to write is a “chronological eulogy.” Basically your start from the beginning of the person’s life, and give a run down of where they lived, their education, marriage, family, kids, career, accomplishments, and so on.  Here’s how to get started:

Step 1: Write an outline.

Sit down and imagine that you lived until you were 90 and then passed away. Now picture what you did during your 9 decades of life. Where you lived, who you loved, how you acted. This is your life as you hope to have lived it. Jot down some “memories” of yourself in answer to the following questions.

  • Where did you live? Did you stay in the town you were born in? Did you live in a far-flung land? Did you move every few years? Where did you retire?
  • What were you hobbies? What did you enjoy doing in your 20’s and 30’s? What did enjoy doing with your family? What kept you busy in retirement?
  • What kind of relationships did you have? Did you get married? How many kids did you have? How many friends did you have? Many? A few really good ones?
  • Where did you go to school? What did you study?
  • What did you do for work? Did you stay with one company or job your whole life or did you change careers many times?
  • Did you win any awards or accomplish any noteworthy feats?
  • What was most memorable about you? Your zany sense of humor? Your delicious cooking? Your insatiable love for adventure? Your passion for the outdoors? Your unshakable faith?
  • What was it about you that people admired most? Your unwavering loyalty to friends? Your honesty? Your work ethic? Your love for you family? Your patience? Your leadership?
  • What will people miss most about you? The creative homemade gifts you gave every Christmas? What a good listener you were? The handwritten letters you sent to friends? The way you could turn every mishap into something to laugh about?

Step 2: Turn your outline into a eulogy.

Now you’re going to take all of the ideas you just jotted down and coalesce them into a finished project. Here’s an easy format to follow:

  1. Birth and childhood. Keep this section pretty brief.
  2. College and career. Where you went to school, what you majored in, what jobs you had. Include any awards you won or accomplishments you made.
  3. Family and relationships.
  4. Your hobbies and interests
  5. The qualities and characteristics that set you apart and made you memorable.
  6. What people will miss about you.

Your eulogy doesn’t have to be an endless tome. Just hit the high points of your life, the really important stuff. Here’s a sample eulogy that I made up:

Carl Johnson was a true New Yorker. He was born in the city in 1978 and he never truly left. Although he traveled the world extensively, and lived at times in other places, he always came home to the Big Apple. He said the city was truly in his blood, and there was never any doubt about where he would retire. Carl grew up in the Bronx and showed his propensity for adventure early on when he snuck out of the house and rode the subway all over the city at the tender age of 8. Carl’s parents were terrified; Carl was delighted.

Carl went to school at NYU and studied journalism. He wanted to be another Bob Woodward or Carl Bernstein. He worked for several smaller papers, always burning the midnight oil, always hot on the trail of the next big story. He landed his dream job when he was hired by the New York Times to work in their Washington bureau. He loved politics. He loved getting to the bottom of the wheeling and dealing that went on behind the scenes. Most of all, he loved to uncover corruption. He was an idealist that believed that that one man could help change the government by exposing the dark things to the light. It was his work in this capacity that won him the Pulitzer prize for his story on the bribery going on in the Department of Natural Resources.

While Carl loved his work, he loved his family more. He married Cindy, the love of his life in 2001. They were as close and in love as any couple I’ve ever met, two veritable peas in a pod. In reference to Cindy, he said to me several times, “I’m the luckiest guy in the world.” Together he and Cindy had two beautiful children, Robert and Elizabeth. He adored those kids. No matter how busy things got at work, Carl was always there at his children’s activities. Of all his life’s great accomplishments, Carl was most proud of the splendid people his children turned out to be.

Although he settled down, Carl never gave up his adventurous spirit. The places he traveled are too numerous to list. He wanted to see every corner of the world and pretty well succeeded in doing so. He camped in Alaska, rode an elephant in Egypt, and canoed the Amazon. He had a long bucket list of things he wanted to accomplish, and he did all of them before he finally did kick the bucket.

I can unequivocally say that Carl was the best man I knew. He combined a carpe diem attitude with faithfulness to his family and an untarnished professionalism at work.  Everything Carl did, he did with integrity. 20 years after I had loaned him 50 bucks, he came across an IOU for it, written on a post-it note and stuffed in a shoebox. I had long since forgotten about the loan, but Carl came to my house that very day to repay me. He was also loyal, almost to a fault. Whatever jam someone was in, no matter how busy Carl was, he would drop everything to come help them. He would give anyone the shirt off his back. Yet while his principles were rigid, he was no stiff. He was the only person to ever make soda come out of my nose. He could find humor in absolutely every situation.

I will miss so many things about Carl. I’ll miss his mighty bear hugs. He was not a man ashamed of hugging. I’ll miss the blueberry pancakes he made me whenever I came to visit. I’ll miss his unflagging optimism. There was no such thing as a bad day for Carl, just challenges that had to be faced and overcome. I’ll miss the great book recommendations he gave me; he always seemed to know just what I would love. I’ll miss the site of him roaring up on his motorcycle, smiling his ever boyish grin. Most of all I’ll miss how full of life he was. Whenever I was with him, I somehow felt more alive. Now that’s he’s gone, I can’t feel that firsthand anymore, and yet his legacy continues to spur me to seize the day.

Today’s task: Write you own eulogy. Confront your mortality and really give some thought about how you want to be remembered. You don’t have to follow the guidelines or example given here. Be as creative as you want.

I’d love for you to share your eulogies in the Community. But if they are too personal, simply tell us you accomplished the task.

Hat tip to the huhman for suggesting this task.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

1 NT4thBook June 20, 2009 at 9:01 pm

“You should be ashamed to die until you have made some kind of contribution to mankind!” ~ Rev. Vernon Johns, Pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, in Montgumery, Alabama. (AKA- Martin Luther King, Jr’s Boyhood Pastor)

2 Jeff June 20, 2009 at 9:52 pm

Remember friend as you pass by, As you are now so once was I,
As I am now so you will be, Prepare for death and follow me.

TO FOLLOW YOU IS NOT MY INTENT, UNTIL I KNOW WHICH WAY YOU WENT!!!!!

3 Joseph Rogers June 21, 2009 at 3:22 am

Stephen Covey…amplified. Me likey, Brett. I find myself to be in contact with young people that are adrift, and have no direction in their life. I remember what it feels like, and one thing I invariably wind up asking over time with these young folks, is “What do you want your tombstone to say?”

Now, they’ll always look at me very oddly when I ask, but I simply explain to them I have very specific reasons for asking, which will be explained when they answer my question. It may take a day, it may take a week, but I’ve never had anyone I ask not answer me.

Once they answer, I explain to them that this is their “mission statement” for their life. I ask them what they’ve been doing to achieve this, and what they think they might do in the future to ensure that they are viewed in this manner.

Not had the privilege of watching my labor bear fruit, but I’m still young (relatively). We shall see.

4 Michael June 21, 2009 at 3:45 am

It’s never too early to start beefing up your obituary…

Remember that and your life will be fine…

5 Steven June 21, 2009 at 9:58 am

I agree with you Michael. Live each day like it’s your last and your eulogy will practically write itself.

6 Brad Drell June 22, 2009 at 3:53 am

Taking cues from the Art of Manliness: Writing My Own Eulogy

Well, I took the advice of the Art of Manliness and wrote my Dad a letter for Father’s Day. It was good for me, and my Dad loved it. Well, today’s tip on the 30 days to a better man program said to write your own Eulogy. Funny, it said be brief. In any event, here goes.

Bradley L. Drell, was born in New Orleans, LA, but grew up and ultimately lived his life, outside of his education, in Alexandria, LA. While he never felt he really fit in to Alexandria, it was home. He was educated at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, true to the Anglican/Episcopal tradition that was so much a part of his life, from which he received so much joy and yet so much pain because he loved his church, and, more importantly, the people in it, so very much.

Brad grew up thinking he would be an Episcopal priest, then a psychologist, but discovered in college he was simply to take up the family business that traces back to his great-grandfather – law, and so he went to LSU Law School.

He had an above average academic career; nothing particularly spectacular, although he spent his life learning. Brad was a big picture sort of guy; he hated having to learn all the pieces, but, once learned them, he could put them all together and very quickly. He was at his happiest practicing law when he worked with others who gifts complimented his to accomplish great things. He tried some important cases, but solved so many others without fanfare. He had a knack for getting things resolved, one way or another. He was a go to guy.

He married the love of his life, Carrie, when he was a mere 21 years old. Carrie loved him and knew him back when, and was chairman of his humility committee. He quested for her love, affection, and approval his whole life, and he was a better man for it. He loved his children, and his greatest gift was talking to them in his study or the kitchen where he would teach them about the world, help them to find the answers to life’s tough questions, and just hang out and have fun with them. He worked hard to support his family, but the most important gift he gave them was his time.

He and Carrie had three daughters, Sarah, Caroline, and Elizabeth, and it has never been lost on his friends and family the irony there, but that was just perfect for Brad. Even in his work, he practiced law mostly with women. While Brad had many close male friends with whom he would bond – his primary ministry was to men in prison, he was President of his fraternity – he had a heart that loved the women in his life – his wife, his daughters, his mother and mother in law, his friends. One of his close friends who always looked at Brad as the son she wish she had said that he knew the hearts of women. Thank God, he did, because he was surrounded by them and lived in a sorority house for most of his life.

Below a very together exterior was the heart of a truly caring man whose only yearning was to be appreciated and who felt that, during many parts of his life, his cheese was about to fall off the cracker. Friends, family and clients would bring their problems to Brad – sometimes to solve them, but often just for comfort, and people never left a conversation with Brad about a problem without the feeling that things would ultimately be okay. Not because of false consolation, but through practical advice, optimism, faith, or just having been listened to.

Brad loved music; while he played oboe, drums and guitar, he’d rather listen and sing along than take the time to really become a good musician. Music fed his heart, but he never had the patience to make the music he wanted himself. A performer who just wouldn’t rehearse.

Brad was an extrovert; he loved people, and he could barely process a single thought or feeling without talking to somebody. He could barely stand being alone, unless he was waist deep in Pensacola Bay with a fishing pole in his hand or writing. His father always said he had three or four books inside of him that he could write – a great American novel, a commentary on church politics, maybe some others. However, Brad was always too busy living those books to ever write them all down. He also began to learn in mid-life to say less, but mean it more, in an attempt to tame his verbosity, but he always was too verbose.

Yet, the words he would say and write would provoke passion, thought, action, love, healing, hurt, resentment, whatever. Brad never left anyone just feeling neutral about what he said. As his father always joked, “Gee, Brad, tell us how you really feel!” Everyone knew Brad’s heart. It was always just right out there. You always knew where you stood with him, because he would tell you, without hesitation, exactly where he was. Frankly, he just couldn’t do any different.

Brad was larger than life; he was a leader. He had friends of so many different generations that he would convince, at one time or another, to do something – people sitting at a Kairos team meeting realizing they were going to do prison ministry and got Drelled into it; people on the other side of the negotiating table who thought the differences couldn’t be bridged, and yet they were; people who would count him as an unlikely friend because of economic, social, or age differences but who were disarmed by his warmth, genuiness, and loyalty. Brad’s greatest interpersonal skill was empathy. He would seek to understand and affirm others his whole life, largely because he wanted golden rule treatment, and to be understood and affirmed himself.

Brad will be missed by the world because he loved, largely because he couldn’t stand the thought of anyone feeling unloved. We will all miss him, but if Brad were here, I know what he would say to us all – sit down, have a drink (preferably good bourbon or scotch), talk about it, have a hug, and it will all be okay.

7 Charlie on PA Tpk June 22, 2009 at 5:05 am

Of all the times I’ve considered my mortality – and believe me: I have done so many times in the last 13 years – I’ve covered a number of different issues: health care POA, when the plug should be pulled (if I am completely and permanently unresponsive), the kind of wake I would prefer (nothing dreary – I used to imagine kiosks playing audio/video of great comedians — now a days a couple of iPods can do that task), and finally how to deal with the body (cremation – why use real estate for a dead body?). In all that time, I never gave a whit what others may say of me.

I’m dead! What would I possibly care what people say about me? Those that know me know the truth, so what difference does it make?

Planning for my family’s finances – that makes all the sense in the world.

Having an obit prepared? As far as I am concerned, it’s a non-issue.

8 Jack June 22, 2009 at 9:31 am

@Charlie

While I agree on the whole, “I’ll be dead I won’t care” thing, think of this exercise as an extension of making a bucket list or another long term goal exercise.

I think the idea is to get what you can out of the process of writing rather than the writing itself.

9 Adam Snider June 22, 2009 at 12:46 pm

This is vaguely creepy, but I understand the reason behind it. I’ll get on it soon.

On a related note, I recently attended a person where the person we were remembering actually did write his own eulogy (sort of…it wasn’t a true eulogy, but it was similar). He knew that he was dying well in advance, because he had cancer, so he took the time to write a reflection on his life and it was included in his memorial service.

It was interesting and, in a way, I hope that I have the foresight to do the same if I’m aware that I’m going to die before it happens.

10 Charlie on PA Tpk June 22, 2009 at 6:33 pm

@Jack if this appeals to you, then by all means go ahead. To me, writing what someone else will say about me when I’m dead seems selfish (for lack of a better word).

I just don’t get it.

11 Brett June 22, 2009 at 6:48 pm

@Charlie-

The task isn’t really about what people are actually going to say about you when your dead or even caring what people are going to say about you when you’re dead. It’s just an exercise in imagination, a chance to think about how you want to live your life. It’s about thinking about how you want your life to go and therefore the kinds of changes you need to make to get there.

But if you don’t dig it, no sweat. To each his own.

12 Dan June 25, 2009 at 11:20 am

If you’d like a tool for setting your goals, you can use this web application:

http://www.Gtdagenda.com

You can use it to manage your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, schedules and a calendar.
A Vision Wall (inspiring images attached to yor goals) is available too.
Works also on mobile.

13 Sergant January 6, 2010 at 10:10 am

Refreshing idea. Opens your eyes towards real life. Manly – to go and do your duties and show your love hidden somewhere down there.

14 G April 18, 2010 at 1:51 am

“Just open your eyes and see that life is beautiful.” –Nikki Sixx

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