Eulogizing gives opportunity to honor friend

According to an oft-quoted study, although one that no one I know has actually seen, public speaking ranks highest on the list of human fears, with death coming in second. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld says most people would rather be the person in the casket than the one delivering the eulogy at the funeral.

But personally, I enjoy both listening to and giving eulogies. Short of the really hard work of actually applying the life principles the deceased advocated, it’s perhaps the final act of service one can perform on behalf of the dead guy or gal.

Standing in front of a group of gathered mourners, especially when you’re grieving, too, and burning through countless tissues, is not what I enjoy about eulogizing those whom I have lost. It’s the reflection upon their lives and the extraction of the deeper meanings. It’s one last time to publicly praise someone.

Stan Bartos

The opportunity to eulogize someone recently arose following the death of my good friend, Stanley Bartos. I’ve written about him (although not by name) many times in my columns, mostly mocking his endearing quirks. I leapt at the chance to say a few last words about him.

As with Stan’s life, the circumstances of Stan’s death were atypical. He was someone highly private, whom at age 80 had never married, never had children, a roommate or an answering machine. Stan was discovered dead at his kitchen table, paying bills, in early July after friends who had not seen him at routine activities for days discussed his absence.

I learned of Stan’s death third-hand, through an e-mail from a former colleague from the senior center in the city where Stan lived. “Sorry to hear about Stan. His gentle soul will be missed.” What?! I was shocked reading the e-mail at 6:30 AM on a Saturday.  I couldn’t think of anyone awake to call to further investigate, so I started checking online for Stan’s obituary. There wasn’t one. Uh oh.

Why hadn’t anyone notified me? Well, because I, who lived 50 miles away and was essentially clueless, was probably the closest thing Stan had to family. As Stan’s emergency go-to person for health problems, I hadn’t been given advance notice by him that he was about to drop dead. I felt helpless, ashamed for not living closer. For once, I wished I was one to get more deeply into my friends’ business.

I started making phone calls. Stan’s accordion buddy, Tony, provided enough information for more phone calls: Law enforcement, ambulance service, medical examiner’s office. Stan and his estate had been assigned a State public administrator. That happens when there’s no will or next of kin. The money Stan worked so hard to earn and had such difficulty spending on himself will go to the State of Michigan instead of doing good in the community.

The public administrator was understanding and helpful. I shared what information I knew about Stan and asked if I could put together an obituary, arrange a memorial service and a post-funeral luncheon. He graciously consented. The funeral officiant okayed my daughter and me to speak at Stan’s memorial service.

The day of the funeral mass, my kids and I placed an easel of Stan photos inside the church. The priest seated us in the front pew for ease of getting up to speak. But then he never called us to the lectern. We squirmed uncomfortably through the Gospel readings, his short eulogy in place of a homily, Holy Communion and a recessional hymn, awaiting our turn in vain.

I couldn’t think of a discreet way to stand and demand, “Hey, when can I say a few words about my friend?” without interrupting the solemnity of the occasion. So I remained uncharacteristically silent, my kids elbowing me with questioning looks.

Given the opportunity, I would have spoken of Stan’s wit and self-discipline; his kindness and listening ability. I would have reminded those gathered to take more risks, to live more abundantly and to share their gifts more regularly with others. Instead, I played piano and Tony played accordion at the luncheon that followed, finding a wordless, positive note with which to eulogize our friend. Good-bye, Stan. It’s been good to know you.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Sheldon
    Sep 06, 2012 @ 01:27:39

    Sorry for your loss Kristy


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