Thoughts on Living Eulogies

When everyone’s friend Peter learned he was terminally ill some years ago, he decided to throw a big party for his large circle of friends in Taos, New Mexico. He didn’t want to miss all the eulogies. He wanted to be alive to feel the love.

Peter was a big man – tall, rather rotund, with a big voice and an even bigger heart – a character well known in Taos, where I used to live. He’d been one of my Creative Writing students at the university there, and I remember how challenging it was at times to reign in his big personality. He always wanted to take over the class.

So it was characteristic of him, I thought, to want to bend the rules about eulogies.

He rented a large party venue and invited all his friends. I went, even though I knew there’d be a big crowd. (Show me a crowd, and I’ll show you how fast I can run in the opposite direction.) There was lively music and lots of dancing and a microphone, of course, so everyone could hear clearly all the nice words people took turns to say about Peter all evening.

There was a free bar, too, if I remember correctly, which must have cost Peter a fortune. But what is money, he obviously reasoned, when I only have a short time to live?

Peter was in his element – the happy host, swanning among his guests. As I recall, he wore a red plaid flannel shirt, blue jeans, cowboy boots, and a huge sombrero with a wide wingspan that flopped and waved as he walked around, as if the hat itself was about to take flight. He was, as ever, unmistakable; a one-of-a-kind kind of guy.

(stock photo)

I didn’t stay long at the party, but I was happy I went. I never saw Peter so light and quite so joyful.

I was reminded of Peter’s eulogy party this week when I saw on Facebook Rev. John Pavlovitz’s repost of his 2014 essay on the subject of living eulogies. (See below for link.)

In his piece Pavlovitz makes a convincing case for giving people living eulogies. We should speak “lavish, unashamed words of love and kindness” to people, he says, “not about them after they’re gone, but to them while we can.”

Eulogies are really wonderful things, Pavlovitz admits; but they’re just usually poorly timed. “They’re often too late to change the path of a life while it’s being lived,” he writes, “too late to bring restoration to a broken-hearted soul while still in its body, too late to give someone wings while their feet still touch the ground.”

“When we lose someone we love,” he says, “we suddenly feel free to speak beautiful, flowery sentiments of gratitude, and affection, and admiration; words that we’d kept bottled-up for years; words the other person had been longing their entire lives for. And now that we’re finally ready to say them, they can’t hear.”

Reading these words, I remembered Peter, who was something of a groundbreaker in this regard. He heard all those flowery sentiments of affection and admiration, and he gobbled them up. He had a great time at his last party.

But the funny thing was, Peter lived and lived. To my knowledge, he went to live in a care home in Albuquerque, where he must have received extraordinarily good care because he kept on living, despite his ever-threatening terminal illness, for years and years.

The dark-humored joke among his friends in Taos when they crossed paths was, “Is Peter dead yet?” And for a long time the answer was, “Nope, not yet!” When he finally did die, it was something of an anticlimax. And his memorial, in the words of one Taos friend, was “humdrum.”

Which makes me wonder: Who are eulogies really meant for anyway?

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To read John Pavlovitz’s entire case for living eulogies, go to:

12 thoughts on “Thoughts on Living Eulogies”

  1. BonnieDear, I admit I have been sad at many a funeral listening to all the nice things people had to say about the dearly departed. Why are we so afraid to say such things to one’s face? It’s a character flaw of the human being, I think. Of course not all human beings, but most find it very hard to speak authentic praise to another. I wonder if one had a Facebook “premorial” if people would write eulogies. Wouldn’t that be funny if it became a thing? xoxo ~ Be

  2. Dear Bon,

    We should be praising those around us, especially those we love. I think that, for it to catch on, we would have to come up with a different word. The connotation with death is too ingrained in eulogy. But the practice of doing it should become part of our daily interactions.


  3. Thank you for this post, Bonnie, and for sharing your friend Peter’s story. A very good idea indeed!
    Last spring I took a class on Death, Dying and Bereavement, and one requirement of that class was to write our own obituaries, then write a eulogy and plan a service for a classmate, based on the obituary they’d written for themselves. It was such a difficult but necessary exercise. Often in our culture we avoid and delay conversations about death and dying until the very last minute, when it’s often too late to construct a meaningful rite of passage for the person dying, or as your post suggests, too late for them to hear how much they mean to everyone. But the time leading up to one’s death can be so beautiful if consciously approached with intention, creativity, reverence and even joy. Of course, it’s important to hold space for the sorrow, too…
    I’m glad Peter had the chance to feel so held and loved before his passing, and glad you were a part of that love.

    1. Thank you, dearest Ellie, for sharing your p.o.v. Yes, what I love so much about Peter’s approach was that it was so joyful. What a lesson to all of us! I’m thrilled that you are enjoying your studies at the Theological Institute. Whatever you choose to do with this training, I’m sure you will be a blessing to all the lives you touch.

  4. I totally love this. I think some Americans are so afraid of death a living eulogy is an admission of the inevitable. Others just don’t want to be fussed over like that. But we’d all get over those fears if living eulogies just became a normal thing. Thanks Bon

    1. Thank YOU, querida Kim, for your input. Yes, I guess we must campaign to make living eulogies a normal thing! The secret may be that the terminally ill person throw a party — like Peter did — which would give attendees permission to talk about the person as if he/she were already dead. Eulogies, after all, seem like life summations.

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