I try not to. And, in what might be a surprise to many (including me), I have become a eulogist (is that even a word?). This is not a role I envisioned.
The one I did last Friday for Mr. Cook -- J.W. Cook Jr., the longtime Woodlawn High School assistant principal, principal and friend -- was my sixth.
|A couple of the Woodlawn graduating classes|
sent beautiful flower arrangements for
Mr. J.W. Cook Jr.'s memorial service.
Eulogies, in my opinion, require propriety, respect and tenderness. These are not everyday qualities for which I'm known, but I can get there when need be.
What one wants to convey to the audience, or the readership, is the sense of the person's life and personality, of their values, what they meant to you and those you're addressing. Mostly, one wants to give the family comfort, an expression of the love for them and the deceased.
I think I've done that; I've been told so. After this many times, I would hope I've gotten the idea.
But if you think I'm comfortable doing eulogies ... no, not quite. It's not scary, but it is a challenge. I'm not nervous beforehand (I know nervous from involvement in athletics, and this ain't it). I'd say I'm anxious.
I thought the two speakers before me at Mr. Cook's memorial service, Coach A.L. Williams (my good friend for so many years) and Janis Hill, did wonderful jobs. So did the Rev. Tom Harrison of Broadmoor Baptist Church, whose eulogy was as good as any we've heard in recent years (and we've been to a bunch of funerals).
I so admire members of the clergy, who do these eulogies -- among many other tasks -- so often, sometimes in tragic situations.
(1) I made my living as a writer and editor, not as a speaker. I sometimes tell the audience of this before I speak in public, reminding them to bear with me.
(2) As I write this, I am not -- emphasis, not -- looking for compliments. I have received many over the years and particularly in the past few days, and I'm grateful.
The purpose of writing this piece is to explain what it feels like to do a eulogy. I talk about this with good friend Teddy Allen, who has done several eulogies and like a lot of us with newspaper and sportswriting backgrounds written many more. We, of course, have North Louisiana in common.
Us Louisiana-based writers all, I believe, greatly admire Teddy's ability to dazzle with his writing, so I was surprised when he said that he finds writing a eulogy more difficult than delivering it in spoken form before an audience.
My view on that is that I can erase or change what I'm writing. Speaking, I sometimes lose track of where I'm going.
I know Teddy is also quite entertaining as a speaker; he has emceed events, and even gotten paid for speaking engagements. Whatever he's earned is more than I've been paid to speak (it's never happened). Nor has that even been my desire. An orator I'm not.
Sure, I took speech in high school (Judy Bordelon) and college (Ed Luck), and I was a solid "B" student -- as I was in most everything, except science courses) -- but I'm glad they weren't at the eulogies I gave to grade me.
Makes me wonder, though, how I could've done if my career path had turned toward television or radio, or if I'd have stayed in the writing/reporting end of sportswriting -- rather than editing -- later in my career when so many writers crossed into TV reports and videos.
I did do enough P.A. work on sports events and analysis on football/basketball/baseball on radio to enjoy it. But I know that writing/editing was the best route for me.
Still, I'd be interested in giving speeches or reading TV news with the use of a teleprompter. I've heard people do that, and it works.
Maybe I'll go to the TCU journalism school and ask if I can sit in on some classes with instruction in teleprompter use. But my goal is to improve as a public speaker.
Yes, I know people "enjoyed" the eulogies I gave, if enjoyed is the right word. Maybe appreciated is better. And they were satisfied with them. But I wasn't ... totally.
Tried to do one (on my Dad) off the cuff, but stumbled around too much and was too disjointed. Tried "talking points" notecards for my mother's service; it went a little better.
I've written out the last three I've done and read portions of them, but when I do that, I lose eye contact with the audience. Don't like that. And sometimes when I go "off script," I have trouble getting back to where I was.
You might be saying, "He's too hard on himself." OK, I am often that way, always have been. That's my insecurity. But my motivation is to improve. I want to be a smoother, more comfortable speaker.
Teddy and I agree on this: The most difficult part of doing a eulogy is to keep a check on your emotions. He remembers that in the first one he did publicly, his emotions were hard to control and he had a tough time getting through it.
I've had my moments of choking up each time. But I find I have to try to stay detached, and it is hard.
Talking about my parents, my father-in-law (Howard Shaw Sr.), brother-in-law (Howard Shaw Jr), one of my very best friends (Ken Liberto) and the man who meant so much to so many (Mr. Cook), it was hard not to break down in tears. But it was also easy because these were people who meant so much to me.
What a eulogy should be, what I want it to be, is genuine, heartfelt (even if it's not smooth). I was -- again -- honored to represent all those Woodlawn kids over three decades.
Don't mind doing eulogies. But you know, really, I hope it's a long, long time before I have to do this again.