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The Eulogy

Late post this week, but I have an excuse: death in the family. Where I was going to write about the discriminatory law that was passed in Texas regarding adoption, life got in the way…or death rather, but the law isn’t going anywhere unfortunately.

Anyway, death in the family, as we were meeting up and I was listening to the discussion of arrangements I fell into the Larry David trap of volunteering for “whatever,” and then was called to do something. I don’t know what it is about me, but I hate doing stuff. I was asked to read the eulogy for the deceased. Well, that’s an easy one. I have no fear of speaking in public, and unlike the old Seinfeld bit about public speaking–that most people would rather be in the box than have to give the eulogy as people report that they are more afraid of speaking in public than of death–I just said sure and took a look at it.

The details of the eulogy are unimportant, and I wouldn’t share them regardless since it’s a bit more personal than I like to get into. What was important, and odd, was that I was told that I was not going to read it during the funeral mass. The deceased was Irish Catholic and it was going to be a Catholic funeral. That wasn’t going to be an issue, I’m an atheist not an asshole, I’ll read the eulogy whereever they tell me, but I still thought this was odd. These things are read at funerals, that’s their purpose. Since the late 16th century the term has meant “speech or piece of writing that praises someone highly, typically someone who has just died.”

I might not even agree to the word “typically” since I’ve yet to hear the word used in any other setting. I suppose that a speech at a person’s retirement might be considered a eulogy, but that would be weird and a bit macabre. However the definition doesn’t exactly state where the speech is given, so I’ll have to give it that. They asked me to do the eulogy at a different venue, who am I to question?

Well I’m me, and I question that’s how I do things. When I asked why, they said it was the priest’s rule. When I asked why again, because while I might be as annoying as a three year old my questions have some point to them, they said that he didn’t like them or want them because some people complained. Then they (family members) referenced the previous funeral I had been to and how the eulogies went a bit long (there were three). First off, too bad so sad, it’s a funeral they’re not supposed to be enjoyable, but I get it–who wants to be in a church service longer than they have to. That part makes sense to me. Maybe the family could take this into consideration but what galls me is the priest making this a rule. (to be perfectly clear, I don’t believe this a Catholic rule or even the rule of the diocese, but just a parish rule)

I haven’t felt, for a long time, that funerals had anything to do with the dead. It’s pretty clear that they are for the living, those that remain upon this mortal coil and want to say goodbye in the fashion that they are culturally used to. Yet this rule, seems to remove that as well. The eulogy for me is the only reason I can tolerate funerals because it’s the only part that I perceive as real. It’s a friend or family member who gives a summation or story about the person that attempts to sum up their character or personality. Take the eulogy out of a funeral and you have church on Tuesday. Dry, boring, antiseptic, impersonal church service where the only difference is that the names of the people doing the readings and various other church activities are spoken aloud i.e. “now doing the first reading is X’s nephew Y.” The homily might have a focus on life and death as well.

Especially this homily. The priest admitted that he cold read the board where family members had placed pictures to glean something of a personality so that he could speak some specifics. Off board, there was nothing but vague generalizations, similar to a how a psychic just tells you things that you want to hear (You fit in easily with people but you cherish your solitude as well). I’ve been to funerals where I’ve heard the same homily spoken with the proper nouns changed. So, what’s the purpose? Who is it for? It seems to serve no purpose other than to get people in seats for a custom that they aren’t questioning. This rule forces me to think that the eulogy was taking away focus from the church and on the reason that anyone was there on a Tuesday morning at a church that very few people had every been to (though to be fair, the one that was literally across the street from his house was under construction), making my uncle and father have this exchange:

Uncle: “I don’t think I’ve ever been to this one before.”

Father: “I think I was here for a funeral a few years back.”

Maybe I’m placing a bit too much importance on it. I don’t like church services and I especially don’t like funerals (though for a distinctly different reason than is usual), but making the whole thing more impersonal really drains the function and purpose of it. Again, it was just mass on a Tuesday morning.

Eventually I did read the eulogy at the bar where he frequented. The people seemed much happier to be there which might be due to the food and alcohol, but it was certainly more fitting. Let’s put the fun back in funeral and get those eulogies read at the same time as everythign else is going on.

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  1. June 16, 2016 at 4:05 pm

    One comment on the “Lord of hosts” phrase. My understanding has always been that this refers to the “heavenly host”, that is, an army. That this god was originally an ancient war god, not a god of hospitality.

    • rdxdave
      June 16, 2016 at 6:47 pm

      You are correct, I was trying to make a joke and then didn’t bother looking it up.

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