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:
- Birth and childhood. Keep this section pretty brief.
- 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.
- Family and relationships.
- Your hobbies and interests
- The qualities and characteristics that set you apart and made you memorable.
- 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.