Chapter 6

Reflections on the Occasion and Time of Tribute

The time of tribute, sometimes referred to as the eulogy, is most likely prepared remarks that praise, honor, and commemorate the life of the deceased. This short reflection or meditation may be given by your officiant, someone you’ve asked, or you yourself. The choice of the “eulogist” or person who delivers the eulogy is usually a close friend or the immediate family. 

In a eulogy, people who knew the deceased from work get an insight into their life as a family person and vice versa. A good eulogy relates stories, touching and humorous, that tell something about the character of the loved one. The best eulogies are those that focus on the speaker’s personal thoughts and memories of the deceased.

If you enlist more than one person, perhaps ask each to speak on a specific time or area of the person’s life to avoid duplication. Distinct times include childhood, young adult, education, parenthood or adulthood, career or post retirement. Specific areas might include speaking of their character, special accomplishments and achievements, or lessons a son or daughter has received from their mom or dad.  

This is not the time for preaching or giving a sermon as tempting as that might be. Do not ad lib. These talks are best written. There is nothing wrong with reading your speech. People expect it. When you finish writing practice reading your speech to a friend. This will help you see if it flows well and identify any adjustments that need to be made.

Sometimes family members write a speech and ask me, as the officiant, to read it.  Even when not asked, I stay close by in case a speaker is overcome with emotion. I’ve found that a simple hand on the shoulder often allows the speaker to regain composure to continue. It also keeps the audience calm and relaxed knowing that the situation is in hand. The key is that whatever is decided should work towards telling your loved one's life story. Remember, the person was not a saint. So don’t say things that are not so. People attending know. 

Here is a bit more helpful guidance as you decide how you want to capture the essence of the person.  

  • Don’t be afraid to talk about the person’s death. Address the particular situation from the anticipated of old age to the tragic of the young. It is not necessary to go into detail, but acknowledge the reality of this particular death. 

  • Begin with a hook, something that embodies their personality or mission in life.  It could be a phrase, a motto or an observation.  What was their credo? What did the person believe about life and death?  

  • This is a time for their family and friends to hear their words echoing back to them.  Perhaps it is a phrase that you hear over and over in your conversations about the deceased. “He loved his family” or “She made the best brownies in the whole world” or “He loved his country” are all examples.

  • Share more in-depth what was meaningful in their life --grandchildren, pets, football, or cooking.  What do they remember most about the individual?  What did they do during their free time?  Where did they volunteer their time?

  • Everyone has some humor in their life. The deepest, most moving memories are best wrapped with a glimmer of humor. Find it and use it.  

  • Share a deeply personal word. Share an incident, perhaps a humorous or touching memory, and what you will miss about them. Speak from your heart. But, remember to keep it about them and not you. They are the center of your story.  

  • Do not worry if you miss anything as no one will notice. Just carry on. And if you get overcome with emotion pause, take a deep breath and compose yourself before continuing.

  • Keep it short. Limit yourself to 7 – 10 minutes maximum. Remember less is more and will have greater impact. 

Symbols Representative of the Loved One

I encourage each family to decide upon a tangible earthly object that symbolize and represents their loved one.   I then utilize it throughout to give the service cohesion. 

This is usually an easy task. For the service for their mother whose name was Rose, each person placed a rose on the casket and took a second one with them.  For the father who had worked on the railroad for over twenty-five years train whistles, conductor hats and handkerchiefs were distributed to the children for the singing of I’ve been Working on the Railroad.  For the woman who was the “salt of the earth” each attendee received a small jar of pink Himalayan salt to take home.  You get the idea.  

If you or your loved one is gardener and outdoor enthusiast, honor them with telling the meanings of chosen herbs or trees.  Here are some to consider whose meanings that I’ve gathered from here and there. This is by no means a complete list of the symbolic meanings of each herb since the symbolism of herbs is inextricably tied to culture and religion.

HERBS

Aloe: healing, protection, affection grief, bitterness,
Angelica: inspiration, magic
Basil: good wishes
Bay: glory, honor, reward
Chamomile: patience, energy in adversity, long life, wisdom
Chives: usefulness, why do you weep?
Coriander: hidden worth
Cumin: fidelity
Dill: good spirits, preservation
Fennel: strength, worthy of praise, flattery

Garlic: protection, strength, healing

Lavender: calm and serenity
Lemon balm: sympathy
Marjoram: joy and happiness

Mint: eternal refreshment, wisdom, virtue

Mustard: faith, indifference
Oregano: substance 

Parsley: useful knowledge, feast, joy, victory

Rosemary; love, loyalty
Sage: wisdom, immortality, esteem
Tarragon: lasting interest

Thyme:  strength, courage, energy

TREES

If the burial is in the woods or the person was a hunter or hiker, many trees hold symbolic meanings.  Here are a few to consider.