Writing (a eulogy) together

As Toni, my sister, wrote on Thursday, August 9, 2012, “My great aunt Millie passed away this morning at 5:21am. The battle was both too long and too short. The impression left on my life by her will be felt forever.” She said that so well that I copied it for my facebook page, too.

My sister and I were asked if we would write and present a eulogy for Millie at the funeral. Yes, yes of course we would.

But how? Where to start? So many memories of such a significant woman in our lives and only two days to write it.

I am a writer, but I couldn’t figure out how to write this. We each jotted down lists, piling the memories on top of each other, veering in all directions, following the thread of one sight or phrase to another and another and another. Tater tot hotdish, the Five Straight game, her station wagon, her quilts, the zoo, the museums, the bike rides on hot summer days, her bumper sticker: Pass or Back Off  I Keep the Speed Limit, the swimming pool and so much more.

Then: a book. The Gold of Friendship by Gail Mahan. This pocket-sized book had resided on Millie’s bookshelf. We saw it every time we visited her. “…a friend is the most precious discovery of all,” it said alongside illustrations of two young children playing together. We could start with this book, let our words and memories flow from this delicate book.

Toni and I ordered coffee and soup from the 24 hrs Perkins. We had to get the words on paper. The funeral was the next morning, less than twelve hours away. We had lists and the book, but sentences and continuity were, as yet, out of reach. Maybe we would just cry through the eulogy.

Then my husband called. He had slipped down some stairs and his left ankle was swelling up and it hurt. With his ragged breath, he said he could wait until morning, he didn’t want to bother me. “No, Dear, I’m taking you to the ER now,” I said.

“I’ll write it. I’ll just pound it out like I did with my essays in college. I’ll write the eulogy. Don’t worry,” Toni assured me. I was relieved. I knew she could do it. I could look at it in the morning and make any changes I needed to make. I wanted to be a part of the eulogy though, I wanted to add my words somehow.

One hour before the funeral the next morning, Toni and I (without my husband who had fractured his tibia) drank coffee at Seven Elephants in St. Cloud reading over what she had written. There was an intro and a middle. There were sentences. I could work with this. I could let my writer-editor-brain take over and pull it all together. Toni, so generous and selfless, allowed me to edit her wonderful words. I added the ending as she drove us to the church. It was short, it wasn’t everything, but we knew it was impossible to put everything in. It would have to be okay.

After bearing the urn in the processional, we spoke the words we had written together. We did it for Millie and for each other.

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