Full disclosure: my writing brain is still playing hide-and-seek with me, despite my repeated protests about not enjoying this game anymore. Also, I got very ill very suddenly last week, and writing is apparently not one of my priorities when I’m trying to figure out if I might die. (If you’re thinking what my daughter blurted out in a panic, ie "Is it Covid-19?!", don’t worry: it’s not. There are still many other things that can completely debilitate a body; in my case the culprit was a new banana-flavoured poison – ahem, drink – that I will never touch again.)
In happier news, a few people have reached out on social media and via emails to share how much they enjoy my newsletter. I sometimes struggle with the idea that working with words doesn’t amount to much, (and the current global situation hasn’t made that easier), so thank you for letting me know that my writing offers some kind of value to you every week.
I’ve mentioned before that I think about death and dying a lot. Lately, I’ve also started thinking about how this pandemic will change our relationship to death and its surrounding ceremony, even if only temporarily. Thankfully, this outbreak is extremely unlikely to affect one of my favourite grief rituals: the eulogy.
I love eulogies not just because I’m a writer who takes every chance to be reminded of the immense value of words, but because when they are done well, with honesty and heart, they beautifully centre the humanity of those we love.
When we write or speak of the people we love who are no longer with us, we lean deeply into tenderness and grace, as we carefully memorialise them, the relationships they shared, how they overcame adversity, and all the ways they found to enjoy being alive. A good eulogy allows us to remember, through the people we have loved, what we ourselves value the most about the human experience. As I think about it, it feels like such a shame that we generally wait until people have passed on to eulogise them.
It’s true that many of us do find ways to let the people we love know what we think of them and what they mean to us: we send sweet text messages, sign birthday cards, or leave surprise notes on a desk or on the blank first page of a book. But, like I realised when my mum died and I wrote a heartfelt tribute that she would never read, too many of our loved ones never quite know the entire truth of how we see or feel about them while they’re still here.
Right now, most of us are grappling with the loss of established ways of showing care and practising intimacy. Tens of thousands of people are losing family, friends and lovers without a chance to say goodbye in person. So perhaps this is a good time for us to use our words in this uniquely loving and life-giving way. It’s a powerful experience to be able to share the essence of who someone was and what they meant to us with others who may have known them, as we knew them. But I’m inviting you to do this with the person themselves: today, consider using your words to hold up a mirror to someone you love, so that they can see themselves as you see them.
Our world desperately needs healing in more ways than one. While our individual ability to save our coral reefs, fix the global economy or improve prejudicial technology might be limited, we do have the power to remind those we love the most of their value at a time when they might be struggling to recognise it. And who knows? In the process, we might also find ourselves lighter and more optimistic, having reminded ourselves that all is not bleak, there is goodness and beauty in the world still, and some of life’s most precious gifts are people we have the privilege of calling our own.
For many of us, it’s probably not the easiest thing to articulate our deep feelings about others. We might’ve been raised to avoid or devalue expressions of love, or to take it for granted that people "just know" how we feel about them. We might worry that our loved ones won’t know what to do with an email or a letter or note that goes over our most precious memories with or of them, or that it might be awkward and uncomfortable. If you find yourself hesitating, that’s okay. But I invite you to ask yourself: would I share these words with a room full of people who love this person as I do? If the answer is yes, then I hope you find the courage to share them with the person. I promise: you’ll be glad you did. I can’t wait to hear all about it.
Till next time,