Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Empty Chair

I had never attended a family funeral in the United States until this past Saturday. I was really really afraid. I did not know what to expect. Would it be different?

I was mainly afraid of the funeral service and the eulogy in particular. What is a eulogy anyways? I thought it translated into Grabrede in German, but my dictionary tells me it's simply "Lobrede", a speech of praise, in German.

Webster's definitions are:

1: a a commendatory oration or writing esp. in honor of one deceased

2: high praise

I guess I used to think of it as an attempt to sum up a person's life. I listened to two such summaries at each of my parents' funerals. Both speeches were prepared by church officiaries who did not know my parents from atom. My parents were raised in different faiths. My mother was raised Catholic. My father Protestant. Neither one of them attended church in the last years of their lives. But they never quit church officially. So once they died, a minister/priest appeared at the door to help bury them.

I wasn't in Germany when this happened. I was sitting on an airplane trying to make it to the funeral on time. While I was traveling my parents lives were discussed.

People, who had never met them, wrote a eulogy, based on the words and stories that my sisters told them. The outcome of each oration stunned me. As I sat in the little funeral chapel, listening to my mother's eulogy by a perfect stranger, I couldn't help but feel anger. It was all wrong! This was not the person I knew.

Strangely enough with my dad it was just the opposite. The female minister hit the nail on the head in everything she said about my dad. She really understood the complexities of my dad's life and managed to relate them to this odd gathering of people. How could this be?

Life is complicated. So is death. I am not sure how one makes a speech properly? Hard enough to just attend the funeral. How can you make sense of a life that is so complex? Who are these speeches for anyways? What is their true purpose? Are they really meant for the departed, to praise and honor them? Or are they more for those left behind, to comfort and let them know that they did okay, no matter how things played out in the end...

On Saturday I listened to Uncle Erasmo's eulogy. It was very different from either one of my parents' eulogies. This one came directly from the family and was read in a frail voice by a person who regularly attended church with uncle Razzy. Was it more true?

In the end, I don't think the speeches matter. They may comfort or upset the people attending at the time. What matters is that we pick up the pieces of our lives after people depart and honor them in what we do. Who was uncle Razzy?

He was a different person to all of us. How could anybody possibly know the sum of him? We can only talk about the pieces of the puzzle and remember what the whole may have looked like. Who sat in the empty chair?

A former: son, boyscout, son, veteran, postal worker, collector of beautiful things, believer, father, brother, husband, lover, friend, uncle - a good person who will be missed by many.


Britta said...

beautifully written, Ulla. You should really think about publishing your musings....

Greetings from the Rhine,

andrea creates said...

I can really relate to your post.
I have a very international family (Dad was German)-I still have close family and inlaws in Europe so I'm always aware of the different ways things are done in different countries and so forth at different times like this.
Take care, and so sorry for your family's loss

germandolls said...

Danke, Britta! Mehr Selbsttherapie...Aber es ist doch schoen, wenn andere Leute meine Erguesse interessant finden!

PurePixie said...

So touching!
I still have both my parents alive in Europe but I know this day is going to come. I just wish I could live closer from them.
Take good care of yourself.

woolies said...

I am so very sorry for your loss; and the picture of the empty chair made me cry. My Uncle died yesterday; got a call from my cousin who I haven't talked to since my father's funeral 8 years ago.
I had to give a eulogy at my best friend's funeral almost 17 years ago - one of the hardest things I had ever done.
You're right - life goes on for those of us left behind. Warmest wishes to you.

germandolls said...

Thank you, Sara! I am so sorry about your uncle! I am not sure I would have the strenght to read a eulogy in that situation. You are a really strong person to do that for your friend!

EvesLittleEarthlings said...

The older we get, the more losses of loved ones pile up.I am sorry for your loss.