Eulogies have always made me wonder if their narrator ever had the chance to say those words to the honored person while alive.
A well-delivered eulogy does not have to be sophisticated to be genuine, heartfelt and inspiring. Well-delivered, it can be a tear-jerker even for someone that did not know the person being buried.
A few years ago, my uncle Emilio, a highly-respected man that was born and lived all his life in the small town of Vega Alta in the North coast of Puerto Rico, passed away. After a long life of hard work, he also turned out to be an amazing father, husband, brother, businessman, mentor, friend, and human being. His tall and robust 90-year old body succumbed to illness and old age.
He did not leave without having made an impact on the lives of everyone that crossed his path.
Affectionately known as “Toto”, my 12-year old son Quique had never met his grand-uncle. For the past 10 years, he had been bed-ridden after suffering a stroke. However, I took Quique out of school that day to go to his funeral because I knew he would never get a chance to live such an experience again.
Old-fashioned funerals in small towns will soon be extinct rituals in Puerto Rico.
As if taken out of a movie, after the 24-hour wake, the casket was placed in a hearse and slowly driven from the funeral home to the front of what had been my uncle’s hardware and food supplies store for over 50 years. All of us — relatives and friends — walked behind the hearse while a traditional Christian song played through a loudspeaker on its roof.
After a brief stop in front of the store for his last goodbye to the place where he had gone to every day for the past 50 years except for Sundays, we followed the hearse to the cemetery in a procession.
Very few eulogies have been sufficiently memorable for me as to remember them years later. Three that were delivered at my uncle Toto’s farewell were unforgettable. They were so heartfelt and beautiful that they brought my son to tears despite never having met him.
The first one came from a nice young man with down syndrome in his thirties. He methodically explained how “Don Toto” had always treated him like anyone else; how he always motivated him and pushed him to his limits. Don Toto had believed in him. It was my uncle’s unconditional support that he had attended school and overcame all obstacles. He ended his respects to him stating that he had become the man he was today because of “Don Toto.”
By the end of his eulogy, the handkerchiefs were already staturated with tear and makeup.
The second speaker was a humble man who told the story of how my uncle would issue him interest-free credit on the (discounted) materials for his farm and never pestered him for the payback. The man never failed to paid him back. He was immensely grateful for the trust that “Don Toto” placed on him without needing to. Very year, he would make sure that the first bananas from his crop — the plumpest and sweetest ones — would be for my uncle.
The last person to honor my uncle was my cousin Tito. His anecdote narrated how Uncle Toto lovingly yet strictly taught him about responsibility.
Every year, my uncle made sure to give him a week’s vacation at his beach house at the Cerro Gordo beach. Tito would look forward to his annual adventure where he preferred to set up a tent and camp out under the stars on the house’s huge yard facing the ocean instead of sleeping in the air-conditioned rooms.
One morning, Uncle Toto had instructed Tito to sweep the leaves of the almond trees before going to the beach. He and his buddies sneaked out without doing so. Upon his return, my uncle sternly but ever so calmly told him that the rake was waiting for him. It took him much longer to rake the leaves because it had become dark. With tears streaming down his cheeks, Tito gave testament as to how Uncloe Toto had taught him a lesson that he treasured throughout his life.
It was at this point that I thought I saw some of the stone statues crying.
My wise uncle treated everyone with dignity and respect. He rightfully earned the admiration and love of many.
After my uncle’s funeral, I wondered how many persons had mustered the courage to tell him in person how they felt about him.
As macabre as this may sound, I am certain that it would have caused him great joy to hear from that young man the beautiful words he spoke of him after he was gone. Or from the farmer. Or from my cousin.
Or from me. Even though I didn’t give a eulogy at his funeral.
I hold no doubt that most people would be grateful to hear in their lifetimes the kind words someone will say about them once they are gone.
During these times when depression, substance abuse and suicide rates have reached epidemic proportions, it may be a good idea to adopt a tradition of bioulogies: the act of praising someone for their virtues and achievements while they can appreciate it.
The Greek prefix ‘bio’ signifies life; joined to ‘eulogy’ that means praise, I concocted the ‘biolougy’ I hereby make a case for. A desirable practice we should aim to adopt in our lives.
My idea of a biolougy does not entail the pomposity or formality similar to an honoris causaor a lifetime achievement award given by peers. Nor does it constitute a macabre exercise in anticipation of death.
Ranging from a compliment to a discourse, what matters is that it honors the unique and valuable characteristics of the recipient and that is comes from the heart. Without any ulterior motive, the biolougy’s purpose is simply to congratulate someone on doing a good job with any part or all of their life.
Go out and deliver a biolougy to someone that has earned it. If it feels good, let me know how it goes. Turning around a single person’s day will be worth it. Maybe it is all it takes to save a life today.