Most of us are familiar with eulogies. They are short speeches, usually given by a family member or close friend, to remember the life of someone who has recently passed away. Other than during a funeral, however, most of us have never seen or delivered a eulogy. It would seem then that in some ways the most important things we have to say to someone are said after they are no longer around to hear them.
Why we find Encouraging Others hard
It seems odd that the people we care about the most we find the hardest to tell. Perhaps it is our Canadian reserve where we wouldn’t want to give anyone too much of a seemingly unnecessary ego boost. Perhaps it stems from our sin nature that desires praise to be directed towards us more than we desire to give it to others. A big part of it is no doubt the reality that we often fixate on the negative aspects of life and relationships and spend far too little time appreciating the blessings we have received from the hand of our graciously sovereign Heavenly Father (James 1:17).
May we as followers of Jesus Christ be at the forefront of edifying, building up, and encouraging one another
Another contributing factor is the effect of the new space we occupy that is constantly inundated with online connectivity which amplifies distractions, increases selfishness, and limits quality time together with others. This plethora of quick-hit virtual relationships has slowly replaced the depth of in-person interactions, the only type of interactions which can truly result in intimate connection forged through mutual suffering, conflict, adventure, and enjoyment.
Add to that the recent isolation we have all experienced, something men in particular were already feeling well before COVID-19, and you have a complexity of factors resulting in a hesitancy to let those close to us know how much they mean to us.
There is a movie that came out in 1998 that contains a scene which poignantly represents this reality. “Waking Ned Devine” is set in the fictious town of Tullymore (Tulaigh Mohr) in Ireland, population 52, where the recent stir is that someone from the town has won the lottery. Two lifelong friends, long retired, hatch a plan to discover who the winner is. At the conclusion of that they find the winner, a fisherman named Ned Devine, dead in front of his TV, winning ticket still in hand. While attempting to adjust to this set of circumstances, a man from the lottery comes by to check in on Ned, leading to the two men plotting to have one friend, Michael O’Sullivan, pretend to be Ned while the other, Jackie O’Shea, runs point on the new operation.
In some ways the most important things we have to say to someone are said after they are no longer around to hear them.
They eventually involve the whole town, agreeing to split the winnings 52 ways in exchange for everyone pretending that Michael is Ned, at least until the lotto man has finished his enquiries. Life goes on, and the funeral for Ned (the real one) is in progress. As Jackie ascends the dais to deliver the eulogy, the lotto man arrives, easily recognizable by the loud sneeze he makes upon entry into the back of the church (hailing from Dublin, he gets allergies in the “country”). Everyone turns to the back to glance at an apologetic lottery official, then back to the front, staring in silent pleading with Jackie to save them all from lottery fraud.
In the tension of the moment, and at first thinking the jig is up, Jackie eventually smiles, and then launches into a short but endearingly sweet impromptu eulogy for his lifelong friend Michael, sitting in the front row, playing the part of the man in the casket. Michael settles in and slowly tears up as his friend eulogizes him in front of the whole town, verbalizing the silent appreciation he has harboured for a lifetime.
What Does Scripture say about Eulogies?
What does Scripture say about periodically delivering living eulogies? While not stated in those words exactly, the Bible has much to say about encouragement, edification, and building up one another in Christ.
Deuteronomy 1:38: “Joshua the son of Nun, who stands before you, he shall enter. Encourage him, for he shall cause Israel to inherit it.”
Romans 14:19: “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.”
Romans 15:2: “Let each of us please his neighbour for his good, to build him up”.
1 Corinthians 14:12, 26: “So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church… What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up”.
Ephesians 4:11-12: “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”
Ephesians 4:29: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”
1 Thessalonians 5:11: “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”
As we come out of a period of tension, stress, and frustration, may we as followers of Jesus Christ be at the forefront of edifying, building up, and encouraging one another in the mutual faith we have in Jesus.
Perhaps it’s time to sit down and write a living eulogy to those who you are thankful for in Christ, encouraging and blessing them for all the ways they have ministered to you. God continually reminds us of His love for us, and thus it would seem to run counter to His character to wait until after someone is dead to let them know the most important things we had to say to them.
Take the time, find the words, and prayerfully share your heart with those who mean the most to you in the family of God. Make a habit of consistently writing living eulogies and sharing them, and when the time comes it will make the final eulogy that much more meaningful. And, since it has already been delivered prior to the funeral, the dear one who has died will have actually heard it.
I’ll leave the final words to the living eulogy that sparked this article, delivered with a twinkle in his eye by Jackie O’Shea to his friend of over 60 years, Michael O’Sullivan:
“Michael O’Sullivan was my great friend,” says Jackie. “But I don’t ever remember telling him that… The words that are spoken at a funeral are spoken too late for the man that is dead. What a wonderful thing it would be, to visit your own funeral. To sit at the front and hear what was said. Maybe to say a few things yourself… Michael and I grew old together, but at times, when we laughed, we grew younger… If he was here now, if he could hear what I say, I’d congratulate him on being a great man, and thank him for being a friend.”