While They Can Still Hear (The Case For Living Eulogies)

We say pretty words about dead people.

There’s something about Death that forces the poet in us to the surface. When we lose someone we love, we suddenly feel free to speak beautiful, flowery sentiments of gratitude, and affection, and admiration; words that we’d kept bottled-up for years; words the other person had been longing their entire lives for.

And now that we’re finally ready to say them, they can’t hear.

My father passed away this time last year, and like many who grieve, I talk to him all the time. One of the greatest sources of peace I have, comes from the fact that he’s heard it all before.

He knew I loved him and respected him and was grateful for him, because I’d told him when he was alive. While I often wonder if the words reach him now, I take comfort in knowing that they reached him then.

Life can be shockingly mundane, and that monotony has a way of tricking us; of lulling us into believing that we have as much time as we need with people. That feeling sedates us just enough, so that we rarely feel the urgency of fully expressing our hearts to those we love.

And then, when we have everything instantly ripped-out from under us in the blink of a tear-filled eye, things suddenly feel pretty darn urgent.

In the moments and months following the loss of someone we love, we get hit by the frantic flood of every unspoken thought, every withheld word, every undelivered sweetness; and we plead for just a few precious seconds back so that we can say all that we never said; all that we should have said. Time becomes something invaluable that we’d gladly sell everything we own for.

Eulogies are really wonderful things, they’re just usually really poorly timed.

We like to say that people are “late” after they’ve passed away, but the truth is that our words are often late too. They’re often too late to change the path of a life while it’s being lived, too late to bring restoration to a broken-hearted soul while still in its body, too late to give someone wings while their feet still touch the ground.

I think we should give people living eulogies; that we should speak lavish, unashamed words of love and kindness, not about them after they’re gone, but to them while we can.

Because the truth is, when it comes to the people you love, (as impossible as it can be to believe), one day you won’t get to choose.

One day you’ll pick-up the phone to call them, and then you’ll catch yourself and remember; and put it back down.
One day you’ll want to sit across from them and say everything you never said but should have; and the chair will be empty.
One day you’ll speak every life-giving, grateful, love-drenched word; and you’ll do it to a head stone, or a casket, or to the ether.

Friend, there are people around you who need to see the full contents of your heart, now. They deserve the blessing of  knowing that they matter, today.

Realize that time is startlingly short.
Give eulogies to the living.
Memorialize them face-to-face.

Speak all the words of love, to those you love.

Say everything while they can still hear.




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28 thoughts on “While They Can Still Hear (The Case For Living Eulogies)

  1. This is interesting because I actually thought about writing a book about how people say kind words after people are gone so they were going to start an organization for eulogies.

  2. Thanks, eh? That was a good read, and reminded me of my own experience. I knew Dad wasn’t all that well, and that he hated doctors etc. (because he knew he wasn’t well and didn’t want bad news) I began telling him, “Dad, I really love you.” in what were sometimes hilarious moments, which elicited a response of , “Christ, Doug, what he hell are you going on about now.” and a sarcastic laugh. Serious moments, where he’d just grunt and not look up from the farm work he was doing. I’d had too many people pass on from this world without hearing me tell them those words, and I decided that I should change that, so I did.

  3. For some reason, it’s hard to say nice things to people unless you’ve practiced. So in our family, on each person’s birthday we go around the table and everyone says something they appreciate to the birthday person. Of course there’s been a lot of moaning and groaning about this over the years, but I love that every member of our family is able to look every other member of our family in the eye and say, “Here’s what I like about you…” “I’m really proud of how…” “I see you doing this, and it’s an example to me.” Little eulogies.

  4. John, you have a gift of telling about important things. I am 71, my father died at 72, after and as a result of 8 or more years with Alzheimer’s. I think of all the wordless ways he affirmed me when I was young (up to about 45), and hope I was able to affirm how important he was to me. Sadly, I often think about the one time, late in the effect of the Alzheimer’s, when I had to warn him not to hit my mother ever again. As far as I know it was the only time, and he had become very child like. Like you I talk to him, and often wish I had said more earlier.

    Thanks for your awareness and thoughtfulness.

  5. John, Was wondering if u ever considered becoming an Army chaplain?

    CH Mark E. Thompson 706 825 1958


  6. Well said, John. My father died a year and a month shy of thirty years ago. I am now 7 years older than he was when he died. Back then I was sure he was a consummate a$$ but now I have come to realize I had inherited ALL those genes. Since he died a day has never gone by that I haven’t thought of something I wish I had shared with him, told him, said to him, admitted to him, or confided in him.

  7. Hello John, My family and I have just moved to North Carolina and have been looking for a church that was close to the one we attended in Florida. A church that anyone can walk in and be welcome. reading your blogs,makes feel your church maybe a close fit to our home church we miss so very much. I have tried to locate the name of your church and location. Have not been able to find them so if you don’t find letting us know how to find your location. Thank you for your time and God Bless you and your family. Paula

  8. I am a new reader and am really blessed by your words. It is rare to find a person of faith who I align with in philosophy. I too, lost my father recently. I have experienced many losses and have learned this valuable lesson of saying the words before it is too late.

  9. I absolutely loved this. You have an amazing gift of communication. You have important things to share, and you share them eloquently. Thank you so much. God bless you.

  10. My dad died 37 years ago. My mother was left with 8 children. The day before he died I went to see him and he looked good. I was in denial. I thought for a second, wow he might just make it. I left that afternoon and had some hope. The next day for some reason, I did not go to the hospital and I told my mom I would go tomorrow. Tomorrow never came. He died that night. I kick myself for not going on that next day but I have a vision of my dad looking good and alert and he new who I was. He knew I was there. My dad knew I loved him and I hurt for him still because he was taken so soon. I am passionate about telling people that you truly love, that you love them. Some people cannot do it and that is their perogative. I know how it makes me feel to let people in my world know how much I care. It just is a good feeling. Linda Panico

  11. I’m thrilled to find another blogger like me on here. I feel like I’ve been searching for weeks to find a blogger who writes about some of the same topics. Thank you for what you’re offering here. Thank you for being a blog I can read and reflect upon while I do my own writing. I feel fairly new to this whole scene but I am greatly enamored by the chance of finding another Pastor who thinks and writes about some similar subjects. Blessings to you. -Jonathan

    • I guess it would behoove me to also mention my thoughts on this specific post. I think you nailed it. We aren’t talking about someone past tense. We are talking to them and with them. We celebrate our relationships today. Waiting even a day, can be too long when we put it off.

  12. A friend shared this post on my FB page because I’m in the middle of what I call a ‘living obituary’ project. First I put out a call for people who would be interested in reading their obituary now, and I had in mind what you’re saying with a living eulogy. When I had a list of friends who were interested (a few friends told me it was creepy and bad luck), I went to their FB walls and asked for anecdotes, comments, a few words that people would like to say about their friend.

    Honestly, I expected a lot of comments. I was a bit unsettled that at first I got nothing. Nothing. No responses except for one. So, I thought maybe people didn’t see my post. Anyway, eventually I asked for stories again but this time I left out the word obituary. And lo, I got more responses. It turned out to be very hard to get people to contribute anything. And this is on FB where people comment on all kinds of things. After asking people repeatedly and rewording my request each time, I got stories. Thank goodness.

    So, this month I’m writing these obituaries for people, and I hope they end up being stories people can cherish, and that when the time comes (I hope a long time from now) each person who contributed will be glad they took the time to share what they love about their friend.

  13. Thanks for blocking me on Facebook, John. So very Christian of you. Hey, did you happen to notice how interest in your blog and Facebook page plummeted like a rock once the hoopla over your post supporting and celebrating the sin of homosexuality passed? That should tell you something, but I doubt it will or you will take the wrong message away from it.

  14. John, thanks. This one reminds me to speak kindly to my parents, regardless of our differences. When I came out to them almost four years ago, they didn’t know how to handle it (being quite fundamentalist in their Christianity) and we couldn’t communicate without hurting one another for the longest time. But now they’re trying to relate, and I’m trying to forgive, and things between us are getting better.

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  17. I feel late to the party (bad word choice, I know) … but thank you so much. When my grandfather was ill for 2 years, only four of us visited him. Then, when he died, everyone wanted to know when they should come in for his funeral. This will sound petty, but it really honestly wasn’t … we told them to take a hike.

    • Your comment touched a chord in me. My late husband had five heart attacks in five months. The sixth one was the final one. Few people visited him in the hospital or nursing home, even though I begged many to go see him. At his funeral several stated they “didn’t realize he was that bad”. I was not sympathetic, and was actually a bit short with some.

  18. One year my husband gave me an “email birthday party”, it was my 40th, back in the day before Facebook. He emailed my friends and relatives from across the country and gave them a special email address to mail a message to me. On my birthday I got to open the mailbox and read all the messages. It was lovely and funny and touching and silly….form elderly cousins, and my uncles, to former co-workers and church friends… I saved all the messages and have read them many times since, the words meant a lot to me.

  19. Another time “eulogies” happen is at retirement parties. Never ever turn down a chance to have or attend a retirement party.

  20. While I totally agree that we should appreciate our loved ones each and every day, I do not agree with them not being able to hear you once they are departed. I speak with friends and family on the other side and, quite frequently, they answer back. Open yourself to their messages; they will not disappoint you.

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