—What Do You Say in a Terrible Situation in which There Is Nothing Nice to Say...? — such as when Offering a Eulogy for someone Whom you cannot Honestly Eulogize?

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A friend emailed me yesterday concerning an unpleasant situation.

His father recently died, in advanced age and was buried.

However, he and his his father did not interact too much, and when they did, it was one-sided, the son trying to be a good son.  The father, sadly, was distant and absentee most of the time, and when he was at home he was drunk and passed out on the couch.  That sadly reveals the “feature presentation” of his family growing up and thereafter.

Several years ago his father had to be put into an assisted living home and his father’s house and possessions dealt with, and his father was, as many in that state of poor health and age and diminished mental faculties, sent to the hospital from the assisted living home numerous times, and despite his father’s lack of fatherliness, my friend made admirable efforts to be a son, and attend to all these needs and arrangements, even though it was not pleasant, even though his father expressed no thanks or appreciation.

Regardless, honorably, he now wishes to present a eulogy for his father, since one or two drinking buddies of his father were upset that there was no service (maybe they only missed not having a wake where they hoped there would be free food and free booze) and some of the people at the assisted living care also expressed the same (my friend’s older brother had been in charge of the funeral arrangements, which were next to nothing, no announcements, no contacting family or friends, just putting him in the ground).

So, desirous of being as good a son as possible, my friend emailed me and asked what he could possibly say in such a situation, in eulogy.  He was really consternating over the prospect, unable to think of anything worthwile to say.  He could not lie and say how wonderful his father was, or how he taught him right from wrong; the father never showed appreciation for his son’s time-consuming seeing after his father’s needs.  That, of course, is a “little” exusable, since we as children rarely truly appreciate all that is done for (most of) us by our parents.  However, it should not be the other way around... when the parent is in his right mind.  Although adults do regress to childlike (immature, irresponsible, illogical) thinking and behaviour as dementia sets, there is no excuse for all the years before that mental deterioration occurred.  Sadly, his father remained unrepentant, unremorseful, ill-concerned to his sons or God to the day he died, even as he lived his life.

What can one possibly say in form of eulogy—without lying?  Without talking about matters that are so trite and insigificant in light of an Eternity in Judgment?

My friend, who I only know casually by email, had shared with me, over the past 6 years, enough of a smattering of his father and their lack of interaction, for me to have a general idea of what to say.  I emailed the below to him, putting myself into his shoes, as best I could, going on the tiniest bit of limited information that I had.


My reply:

In such painful, yet awkward and potentially volatile situations, one has to be brutally honest, tempering it with grace, and attempt to think outside the box.  Based upon the comparatively little I know that you have shared with me, if this had been my experience, I would say something like this:

“I am at a loss for words to use in this eulogy.  The word eulogy means ‘to lift up’.  I would love to be able to offer a glowing eulogy to a loving, caring, self-sacrificing, Christian father who was always there for his family and a blessing to the community. Sadly, I can’t say that; even sadder, I never experienced it. Certainly, if I thought long and hard enough and put my own unresolved bitterness aside, I am sure that I could remember a few nice moments—but what are a few (possibly accidental) aberrations in the face of a lifetime pattern? and what are a few token gestures in the Light of Eternity and a Just God?  Deaths and funerals are sad; when compounded by this type of life, they become insuperably tragic.

Without intending to be bitter or snide, I guess the very nicest thing (and believe me, I do wish that I had many things far better to say) that I can say about my father was that, without realizing it, he taught me one of the most important lessons that I could have ever learned in life: not to be like him.  That is sad and tragic, but one must look for the silver lining.  Don’t misunderstand me.  I am not for a moment under any “holier than thou” delusion.  What he taught me is a goal.  I have not claimed to have achieved it with any stellar success.  I fail daily.  But I realize how I am supposed to live before God and when I fail, I confess my sins, get back up, and endeavor by God’s Grace to do better.  But my... for lack of a better word, “relationship” that I had with my father is something constantly in my mind.  Each day going through life in which I see any family, any father and son, I cannot help but to think it.

Some may denigrate me for this confession.  But please tell me, when I have a void—a vacuum in my childhood, my life, my soul—with what am I supposed to fill it?  Make believe...?  The Bible says “honor thy mother and father”.  This does not mean to cover their sins or praise their wickedness.  It means honor them by God’s Grace in becoming a better person than they were, if that is possible—to obey God and live honorably; even if they didn’t.

Again, I do not claim to have achieved this, but it is a goal.  I don’t have any children of my own.  Part of that is because of the dysfunctional crippling to which I was subjected in my formative and inescapable years.  I try hard not to “blame” my father.  Like Joseph, sold into Egypt by his own brothers (after they even considering murdering him), as hard as it is, if I am honest and understand true theology, God is in control and God ordained my life to have had the upbringing that I had.  God has a lesson to teach me.  I don’t have children, partly because I know that I have not become a model human being, or model Christian, though I try; and so I have not wanted to even risk the chance of being father to children, the same type of father that I had.  I am not saying that this is the only reason that I have not had children of my own, but it certainly is a foundational and major factor.  I of course have failed and made bad decisions, and of course many other factors can come into play (politics, economics, etc.) to derail a life from its hopeful destination.  I do try, by God’s Grace, whenever I can keep that in mind, to be a person who honors God and lives morally as He commanded.  I don’t have any delusions about walking on water, and I don’t merely “try to get along” with everyone in the world, but do what’s right (and let the chips fall where they may)... and hopefully, as I am able, with the right attitude.

Again, I don’t claim to have achieved success at being a better person as I would have liked to, but it is a daily endeavor and I do have to admit that I have my father to thank for it—as sad and tragic as that is.

What I would be most thankful for, is if somehow, in his last moments, privately, in his own mind, he asked God to forgive him for his sinful life and accept Christ’s Death on his behalf.  Anyone who thinks of Eternity in Judgment, without God’s Grace, without hope of reprieve, within the context of that established in Holy Writ, if he is honest and has a functioning moral conscience, would have to feel overwhelming pity for anyone in that situation.  So, despite whatever pain my father caused me, and despite whatever loving times and memories he robbed me of by not being the honorable type of father, in light of Eternity I do hope that he truly made his heart right with God; that God, somehow, enabled him at some time to make peace, no matter how tardy, no matter how feeble, with his Creator and Judge.

I thank God also, not that I am any wonderful role model, but in a dog-eat-dog world, the majority of people who have such fathers act like savages and run roughshod over other peoples’ lives—living even worse than they experienced at the hands of others.  It is only by God’s Grace that I did not turn into such a person and I believe that is the greatest lesson we can learn from this tragedy of life and death.  If each person does all he can to make certain that his children are on the right path and that he is leading them, there could never be any open-ended tragedy like this.  Yes, there will be tragedies; life is full of them.  Anyone can be taken from this life at any moment.  However, the tragedy of tragedies is to leave this life without hope—with only the Promise of Judgment.


He replied:

I just read your eulogy, it is spot-on accurate and quite enlightening, thank you.


I then asked permission to share this information (removing any personal data, such as his name, etc.) in case it may inspire or comfort anyone else in similar situations.


He replied

Sure, go ahead, it is brilliant as usual.

He also commented:

There is nothing unique about my father’s life although alcoholics all think this of themselves.  They are routinely average and dull and predictable and frequently quite terrifying in their abandon.  Thank you so much for writing that as it has lifted me up at a time when I want badly to be done with all of this.

That is exactly correct, too, what you said about my understanding that his is a life that I do not want to emulate, do not want to re-create and that this also seminally contributed to my not having children.  You have clear vision, my friend.


I replied:

Also, understand that I was able to write what I wrote, with such vision, only because to some degree, I sympathize and can relate on some level.  Although my father had wonderful qualities, life was not always easy and there was a lot of friction and a lot of unpleasantness—but at least there was day with night... and though my dad reacted carnally at times and made situations worse, so did I.  Beyond that, he was always there.  Regardless, growing up a bit dysfunctional and due to other factors, what I expressed is similar to why I do not have children, not that I was fearful of raising children as my dad raised me, but so they would not turn into me—at least not the me that I was 20-30 years ago; but then that ship sailed, and then it backed up ran over me 3 or 4 times before it disappeared on the horizon.  I still pray for that ship’s return... not just any ship.


This very personal testimony is shared anonymously, in the hopes that others who find themselves in a similarly tragic situation might see some faint glimmer of hope through the ominous, dark clouds; and that hopefully others would see the error of their ways and turn their lives over to their Creator and Redeemer, so that all sorts of untold tragedies, in this life, and in the next, can be prevented.  RAB