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30 September 2008

Hi Guys...I could use a hug, and maybe some advice I got some really bad news today. I'm doing alright, but could use some advice[More:]Today I found out that my best friend of about 22 years passed away this weekend, and the ripe old age of 39. It sounds like he may have passed in his sleep due to a stroke, of the cerebral hemorrhage type.

I spent the afternoon calling old friends with shitty news and being pleased to hear that many of them thought they'd make the trip home. I've been in tears, and in the Irish Whiskey, in about equal amounts.

So, here's a question. His mom asked me if I thought I could speak at the funeral, because she and his dad were speaking about it, and they felt that there was no way they could do it. I'm not too bad at public speaking, and I think I can, so I said sure. I'm thinking that I should spend some time thinking of they sorts of things I'd like to say, and then sorta share this with them beforehand. I would hate to share, or say anything that caused them any more pain. Does this sound like a reasonable approach? Also, any tips for getting through that kind of speaking without falling apart?

Oh, and lastly, any tips on dealing with this kind of loss? The last loved one I lost was my 89 year old grandmother, whom I miss dearly, but it seemed easier, what with her being 89 and all. This just seems like a giant pile of fucked up.
Sorry dear :-( (((((((((((((richat))))))))))))))
posted by ThePinkSuperhero 30 September | 21:34
First of all, BIG HUGS and whuffles and all that stuff. As far as falling apart, well, it's OK to fall apart. Really. I think unless someone has total distance from the person they're eulogizing, there's little way not to fall apart to some degree or another.

Also, your approach to talk to the family ahead of time is admirable. But you're all in a situation that is painful no matter what you say at the service, so expect that they'll be in pain. It's part and parcel of the very situation. I can't think of anything a normal person could say of a friend that would be inappropriate, beyond the obvious taboos. Say if he'd been a murderer. Yeah, don't bring something like that up. But you can talk about the good he did, the joy he gave you, the trials you or he suffered through, the pain you're feeling...all of that is OK, in my book.

I am so sorry your friend passed away, and that you're in such pain because of it. I don't have any wise words about the coping beyond recommending watching your intake of the whiskey. You'll probably have good and bad moments, and for how long, nobody knows. You have people here who care, and hopefully that provides a small measure of comfort.
posted by Stewriffic 30 September | 21:37
Sorry, doll, so sorry.

You could sit with them and talk, ask them what they would like mentioned, and mention them that way: "His father remembers-- his mother wanted people to know--" but your own words should be your own and come from you. Talk to people, but you don't need to speak for all of them.
People will want to share their aspects of him and want to know about the things they didn't know, the personal anecdotes that illustrate what they did know.
Do what feels right but be genuine.
Write it down and practice to help get through it, but don't limit and censor yourself. This is the time for you to be able to express your grief with others who are also grieving, and having that chance to be together will mean a lot to everyone.
posted by ethylene 30 September | 21:39
I don't have any advice but I want to say I'm so sorry for your terrible loss.
posted by loiseau 30 September | 21:42
Oh, and also? Be very very kind and gentle with yourself. Eat healthily. Exercise. Get enough sleep if you can. Take care of your body, which will help take care of your mind.
posted by Stewriffic 30 September | 21:50
Thanks you guys. It's a totally lousy situation, and I am being mindful of the whiskey. Today it seemed like a good approach, but a drunk eulogist is no man's friend. This I know.

Eth, thanks for the idea on how to incorporate his folks' into things. For the most part, I think my experience with Chris was not uncommon. I think we all knew him to be the same, great, great fucking guy. So, for the most part, I think I'd be okay with just sharing my memories. Any other tips, and I'm all ears. Here's one thought that struck me today, and I'd be curious to know how others might take this if they were to hear it at a funeral.

Chris, you see, was a great guy, I think I mentioned that. He was the guy who you could rely on. He was the guy to give you the great advice that you'd wish you'd taken years later. He was generous. He loved to take care of his friends and he couldn't make a bad decision if he tried. The only thing that I ever saw "best" him was the passage of time. Every year, my birthday gift TO HIM, was to ignore his birthday. The idea of aging seemed to scare the hell out of him. Well, it struck me today, that he managed to beat that one too. Now, he won't have to worry about getting old any longer...he even managed to beat that one, in his own way.

Do you think that's sort of an insensitive way to look at a guy dying at the age of 39? Would it hurt people to hear that? Cos, while it brings me solace, I don't assume that everyone thinks or feels like I do.

Also, there are a couple great askme threads on this that's helping.

posted by richat 30 September | 21:50
I'm very sorry for your loss, richat.

(I'd think you'd want to choose your words very carefully. Eulogies are for the living, y'know?)
posted by box 30 September | 21:59
I'm so sorry, richat. Big hug.

Do you think that's sort of an insensitive way to look at a guy dying at the age of 39?

I don't think it's insensitive, but I think it's more your way of finding sense in all this than it is a Universal Truth.

I think you should stick with remembering him -- the good, and bad -- without trying to explain his death. The anecdote about his fear of aging is perfectly fine, but don't use it as punctuation, as it were. Maybe there's another way to approach the only thing that ever bested him?

This has got to be so hard for you. Kudos to you for agreeing to help out his family and friends, and big hugs to you for what you'll go through in the meantime.
posted by mudpuppie 30 September | 21:59
Oh richat, I'm so very sorry. What a nightmare. Big, big hugs to you.
posted by jrossi4r 30 September | 22:06
Dear richat,
I'm truly sorry for the loss of your friend. So sorry he died. 22 years is a very long time to be friends. I'm so sorry your friend died so young. Gee, you knew each other through teen years, all the hard 20's, almost to 40.

Death is always an interruption in the ongoing flow of life. There is no perfect time to leave, people will be saddened by the exit, there's always stuff to do, dreams yet to be fulfilled, places to visit.

Having almost died a few times by cerebral hemorrhage, it's not a bad way to go in one's sleep. It's not years of misery or a long drawn out death. But for his parents it will no doubt be an exquisite and probably almost an unbearable agony of loss.

There is no perfect speech to make. A funeral is a time for tears, for feeling the loss, the sadness and grieving. I think it would be strange if you did not cry. So bring kleenex.

Sometimes looking death in the face helps to make it less an ogre and more of a passing, part of the impermanent nature of life.

This is a site that helps people in their recovery from feeling abandoned, either in death or in love.

Abandonment Recovery

You might consider posting a question in AskMetafilter for people's ideas about your speech.

Random ideas come to mind:
how my sister teaches her students to write an essay. Make a sandwich: opening statement, the meaningful middle and a closing statement.

opening statement
Celebrating that your friend lived
Valuing their qualities and how you feel about them
What they liked and how that made you feel
Honoring the loss, what you'll miss
Cherished memories
closing statement

Never having done what you're doing, I don't know what to say, except that people have come there to feel their feelings, to cry, to be sad as well as to feel the connection to the person they love and will always love.

hugs to you,

posted by nickyskye 30 September | 22:12
richat, I am so sorry. My heart goes out to you.
posted by LoriFLA 30 September | 22:19
((((((richat)))))) :(
posted by small_ruminant 30 September | 22:22
I'm so so sorry to hear it.

What a terrible loss for you.

I was too young to speak at Dad's funeral, but my Mum's younger brother and one of Dad's oldest friends both did. I listen to the eulogies occasionally still.

They were both full of things and stories that seemed to sum Dad up - how they met him (or in Stuart's case, who was 2 when my parents started dating, his earliest memories of Dad), things Dad was most proud of, what made him happy, funny things that he did or said that made them love him.

Any stories like that that you have for Chris will probably be helpful - both to you and to them.

Big whuffles and hugs, and all the best.
posted by jonathanstrange 30 September | 22:24
That's totally, really, fucking sad, and I hug you.

As for the speaking thing, if you feel like you can do it, you can do it. Trust your gut. If you are actually feeling like you can't, trust that and say so. If you can, then you will, and you will do it well and do you and your friend justice.
posted by rainbaby 30 September | 22:29
Oh, man, richat. That's very hard. It's so shocking when someone dies so suddenly at that time in life. The surprise, the sense of having the rug pulled out, is disorienting - and makes the grief so strange and hurtful. Hugs.

On the eulogy topic: I know when a child dies before his or her parents, that's often one of the most excruciating aspects of their grief - that the order is upset. They were supposed to go first. Their hopes were to have the child outlive the parents. It's nothing a parent ever expects, your worst nightmare probably, even when the child is an adult. So, even though your friend did get to escape old age, it might be a hurtful point for his parents. Not that they aren't hurt already, so maybe it would be oddly a comfort. It's really hard to know, but I'm sure you'll say and do exactly what makes sense at the time.

Make some notes on index cards and keep them with you. They will be helpful when you're up there, but they will also give you something to do with your hands. You can depart from your notes as needed, but they can be a great comfort.

I know you will do a beautiful job.
posted by Miko 30 September | 22:43
Thanks for the input on the beating old age aspect. That's exactly what I was worried about, pouring salt on fresh wounds so-to-speak.

Thanks also, for all the hugs, whuffles and thoughts. I appreciate the input A LOT.

I'm thinking about quoting a passage to wrap it up. The passage I think I might quote it the chorus to the Stones' "It's Only Rock n Roll" which was one of Chris' favourite Stone's songs. It's simple, joyful and CHRIS. :-)
posted by richat 30 September | 22:48
In terms of your own coping and grieving, I've really liked the brochures (PDFs) that I've seen from Victoria Hospice. You may want to click around and see what strikes a chord with you.

I'm so sorry for your loss. Be gentle with yourself for a while.
posted by occhiblu 30 September | 23:02
It will be one of the hardest things you ever do, but it's important enough that you should put the effort in to do it right. As mentioned up there somewhere, eulogies are for the living and are to celebrate the life that your friend lived, not to mourn his passing. Don't be afraid to use low-key humour where appropriate and try not to make it a mournful thing - talk about all the good stuff.

Instead of quoting from his favourite song, why not play it? A funeral I went to for a friend who died at a similar age included several of his favourite songs, which gave people a chance to reflect quietly and in their own way.

*gives richat a manly hug* Good luck, man. You'll do fine.
posted by dg 30 September | 23:32
hi again richat,
Just now read jessamyn's post about the death of the poet Hayden Carruth.

He wrote a moving poem about death and dying, called Prepare.

Thought of passing it on to you.

more hugs,
posted by nickyskye 30 September | 23:41
richat, I'm so very sorry. I don't have any clue what to say on the eulogy thing because speaking in front of people flat terrifies me. I just uploaded some pretty Colorado mountain scenery to my flickr site. Here, have some with a gentle hug and whuffles.

(((((((((richat))))))))) *whuffles*
posted by lonefrontranger 01 October | 00:05
*giant hugs* I'm so sorry...nthing what everyone else said and that it's okay to cry while you're up there.
posted by brujita 01 October | 00:16
Oh, geez, I'm so sorry. Many, many hugs.

I don't know how relevant this is, but when my dad died my psychiatrist told me to "write a symphony for him, in whatever way you know how." I didn't follow his advice at the time, but I think I've been writing it ever since, and I think I'd be ever-so-slightly better-off if I'd taken his advice sooner than later.

All that to say that doing the eulogy, while incredibly painful, might help in the long run. As for what to say, I'd suggest just speaking as much as possible from the heart, even at the risk of ruffling a few feathers -- so long as it's genuinely from the heart and there's no anger toward the parents in it. Maybe just talk about what you'll miss the most.

posted by treepour 01 October | 00:23
I'm really sorry, richat. I'm glad you had him while you did, and I am sending every good thought your way that I can.

posted by Sil 01 October | 01:01
Save the saltier tales for after the service, esp. with people coming in and wakes rippling.
i toasted ye, dear hat, and am sure you will do well, if you haven't gone to sleep in that spent, wet breathed way yet as tears exhaust one, we can share another.

i've often though of making little richat dolls for metachat. You're a fine totem as well as a good guy.
posted by ethylene 01 October | 01:51
I'm very late to this, but MAN, I am so sorry richat. That's so awful and, like you said, it's like having a rug pulled out from under you. No advice, just *hug* and be well, my friend.
posted by BoringPostcards 01 October | 06:18
Again, thanks everyone. I really appreciate each comment, and the input invaluable. Or really valuable. That's one of those flammable, inflammable things for me. Suffice it to say, THANKS.

I'm not afraid of showing emotion, I just want to make sure I'm able to plough through. I'm going to spend the day going through photos, although we weren't photographers in our youth, and trying to remember every era of our friendship, in hopes of finding some of those simple truths about the man that will ring true to the group. I am sure no one who attends will be able to say I gave a lousy remembrance, but part of me wants to hit it out of the park. This mofo deserves no less.

Again, thanks to the lot of ya.
posted by richat 01 October | 06:48
posted by mightshould 01 October | 07:05
I'm do sorry.

My Dad has become designated speaker at all the funerals in the last few years. His speeches all follow the basic format that his speechwriters used, back when he had speechwriters, but they are entirely what people have said above: not how he's feeling (except in very brief as a frame around what he's saying) but who this person was, not only to Dad, but to the other people who loved him. Sometimes he has time to talk to other people about what he'll say first, sometimes he doesn't. Ultimately, he's sketching the person he knew, the void he'll now experience, while trying to acknowledge that other people knew the person differently.

I remember at the last funeral--the first for Dad's childhood friends (Bob), and an unexpected one--being surprised by Dad's eulogy because it made more reference to one of his childhood friends (Bill) than I ever expected to hear, having never heard Dad include Bill in his stories before. Bill and Bob were close, Dad and Bob were close, but Dad was never much close to Bill, I guess. But because the eulogy was about Bob, not about Dad or Bill, Dad made sure that it was about how everyone loved him, and everyone missed him, knowing that no person in the room (aside from Bob's wife and children) had a greater claim to grief or shock or memory.

I can't imagine, as long as you are genuine, mindful of your audience and respectful of everyone's memories, that you'd say anything wrong. Simple, joyful and Chris, that's what you need to say, in whatever way is yours.

Take care of yourself.
posted by crush-onastick 01 October | 08:47
So sorry, richat.
posted by Hellbient 01 October | 09:56
I was afraid at first that telling specific stories of things the beloved deceased did or said would be painful, but it seams that is exactly what the people closest wanted to hear. Little anecdotes that typified the person.
posted by StickyCarpet 01 October | 11:19
I'm so sorry, richat.

I wrote a eulogy that was read at George's funeral (by his brother-in-law, Tom, who conducted the service). So he got to see it beforehand, and I did say to him that if there was anything in it that he felt was inappropriate he could leave it out. But he left everything in it.

Look after yourself. Try to remember to eat and rest, if you can. You might also get that horrible feeling when you wake up of forgetting for a second or two what's happened, and then it comes slamming back into your head. That'll pass, it really will.

Spend time talking about him with friends and family, remembering all the little stuff, the silly stuff.

Put a photo album together, a real one with real pictures, not digital, leave it out somewhere at his memorial and ask people to write their memories of him in it, even if it's just a few words. I did this for George (on the recommendation of a friend who'd been through the same thing) and, although I couldn't look at it for months, the album's something I treasure now and love to look at from time to time.

Again, I'm really sorry, and so sad for you.
posted by essexjan 01 October | 11:27
Sorry to hear this.
posted by plep 01 October | 12:10
So sorry, richat. My condolences.
posted by goo 01 October | 13:10
I'm so sorry, richat. (((hugs)))
posted by gaspode 01 October | 14:57
Richat I am so sorry to hear of your loss. I lost a good friend at 33 last year unexpectedly, and it's so much harder to bear than an elderly friend. All I can say about eulogies is: The only time I gave one for a non-family member, I brought up a couple of fun memories of her (she was a good friend's mom), and how much she meant to me. It's true, funerals are for the living, and stories and memories that can bring even the smallest smile to one's lips often mean the most. Please take care of yourself, richat.
posted by redvixen 01 October | 18:54
Oh, richat, I'm so sorry for you loss. He sounds like a rare person.

And you are a rare person, too. Clearly, your friend's mother knows this: it's a heavy task but also a great honor to do what she's asked of you.

At his mother's request, I spoke at my first partner's funeral. It remains one of the hardest things I've done, but even 12 years later, I'm glad I did.

If you think you can do this, you can do it.

I'm not afraid of showing emotion, I just want to make sure I'm able to plough through.

Okay, then, let's get down to practical considerations.

Notes are important, especially at such an emotional time. But don't be afraid to stray from your notes if inspiration strikes.

For me, it was important to rehearse my eulogy out loud a couple of times; repetition robbed the most emotional passages of their sting, and I could complete it without sobbing.

People will understand if you need to pause, or if you choke up or get teary-eyed. If you just need a moment to gather yourself, take it, but keep your chin up --- literally: if you drop your head for more than a few moments, they may think you can't go on, and someone may come out to speak in your place.

Don't forget to breathe.

Except in the most serious of groups, it's okay to laugh, and healing to help others laugh.

If you can say something kind about his family (tell about his love for them, or their support of him, or the tight bond they shared, and especially if you can illuminate it in a happy or touching story), it will be a great gift to them.

When I did this, I did start to choke up and get tearful. I subdued it by constricting my throat for a moment, like the sideways-swallow thing I used to do in elementary school when in danger of laughing in class. I also found that, if tears welled up and threatened to erupt into full-fledged crying, looking sharply upward helped stem the flow.

I don't know if any of this will be helpful for you. I wish I could help you, because this is a great kindness you're doing the family.

Be kind to yourself, too, and let your family take care of you.
posted by Elsa 01 October | 18:56
"One of my best friends for 30 years is gay..." Sarah Palin on social issues || R.I.P. Ask AVClub?