Marilyn Englander: Eulogies

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Eulogies are a fact of life, as are the deaths that precede them. Marilyn Englander is learning how to compose them.

Against my will, I am learning how to give eulogies. My summer was overshadowed by the deaths of two dear friends, and I found myself asked to speak at their memorials. I was very much the reluctant eulogist.

We tend to think of a eulogy as “high praise for one who has died,” but I found the word’s deep roots to be truer: speaking good words, blessing.

“The Celebration of a Life,” reads the invitation. I struggled to compose words describing how my friends had shone so brightly through all their lives.

But we weren’t gathering to compliment the deceased. Human vanity and ego don’t survive the grave. We, the survivors, were trying to incorporate a painful new reality, to comprehend it and find a means to move past it.


What those of us left behind needed was comfort. My true task was to help the living towards acceptance and peace.

Henry James wrote about grief, teaching that sorrow rolls over us in great waves, and yet still we remain where we are. One friend wrote, as she neared death, that she was not frightened, for all of us walk alone down this path one day. And both friends had let us know that they were ready to go, no matter what the rest of us wanted.

It became clear to me that, to manage our loss, we needed to hold each other now, in the moment, and then try to go on with more generosity, deeper appreciation. So, how better to honor the dead than by offering good words to those who remained behind, keeping their memories alive.

As I rose to speak, I was poignantly aware that our mourning had only just begun. We would need to keep our hearts open to each other for a lifetime to come.

With a Perspective, this is Marilyn Englander.

Marilyn Englander is a North Bay educator.