I was the funeral last month of Jerry Pitzen, father of my pal Chris. I always feel a little guilty at funerals, over the part of me that’s so eagerly looking forward to hearing the eulogy.
This one didn’t disappoint, even from the start.
“The story goes in the Spring of 1942, when I, Don Pitzen, newly born, was taken from St. Mary of Nazareth Hospital, to the upstairs kitchen on Whipple Street, my brother, 2 1/2-year-old Jerry, eloquently said, ‘Put him on the floor, I want to play with him.’ So our play of 80 years began.”
Why are eulogies so reliably good?
First, they’re usually told not necessarily by the person closest to the deceased, but by the best storyteller who was close to the deceased. This is a good choice.
Also: People question the integrity of eulogies because they focus on the good aspects of the deceased. But really, shouldn’t we always be doing that, in life? Should I be known as an above average writer, or as a bad soccer player?
And finally: Whatever is left out of a eulogy, what winds up being said has to pass a pretty holy smell test. It’s pretty hard to spin and lie in a church, in front of God and a couple hundred people who knew the person, too.
So ultimately, a lot of truth is gotten across in eulogies. A lot of human grace is demonstrated by eulogists. A lot of colorful stories are told, and told well. And a lot of really constructive, community-affirming communication gets done.
Don Pitzen wrapped up his eulogy by sharing that his dying brother had asked him to say something at his funeral. “I assumed he meant something nice.”
So I did what he would have done, I made a list; rearranged it; fleshed it out. As a [former] priest I’ve had many weddings and funerals. At a wedding nice and funny things are usually said about the bride and groom. At a funeral things tend to be more serious. Things are said about the deceased; who, we believe, or don’t believe, can hear what is said. I had a golden opportunity. Jerry could know the “something” I was going to say. So I showed him the “something” I had written. He read it, slowly and carefully. He finished, looked up from his bed, winked his eye, pointed his finger at me and said, “That’s it. That’s what I wanted. Give copies to all my family.”
“Anything to add? More or less to be said?”
Is that true enough for you?
It’s true enough for me.
Like most eulogies I see.