Recently I got this letter (I should really call it an email but I'm old fashioned)
“I am doing the eulogy at a close friend's funeral next week and I have been so overwhelmed with sadness that I wondered if you had any tips about how not to cry. I am going to do it but I'm struggling with crying”
Here is my reply...
The day before my dad's funeral 12 years ago in May 2007
I spent an hour with him in open coffin. I did a lot of crying with him by myself. I referred to him as daddy for the first time in 40 years. I cried buckets (I had missed my mum’s funeral, so in a way it was a double funeral for me. I was away in Greece when my mum died and the Greek police did not track me down)
So by the time I did the eulogy I was mostly all cried out but I did have a little sob. But I told the congregation “Don't worry about my tears, it's alright to cry – it’s a funeral and it’s my dad!”
I was letting the audience know that although I was crying I could cope.
I do know a lot of my public speaking clients who didn't speak at their dad's/mum's/friend's funeral and they regret it because they were afraid of crying. As Victor Frankl says “Courage is the realisation that there is something more important than fear”. Maybe we should change that to “more important than tears”
I do feel that tears are fine at a funeral. My first tip is about letting the audience know that you are ok with the tears, that you can speak with the tears and that crying is part of loving. And not to be ashamed by something so human.
I do know that when we feel vulnerable, the audience will often see our vulnerability as courage.
My focus and intent at the funeral wasn't my personal grief, it was a speech about him, it was about representing the family and telling his story. So that shift of focus helped me the bigger picture. And that's the second tip, if you can, see the bigger picture at the funeral, you are speaking on behalf of the family or for his friends. Thinking less about you. But don't worry if you cry.
However I do know that if you tell the audience that you are ok with tears, you will get a huge amount of love and often comments about how moving your speech was. The third tip is that I know it helps sometimes to have someone close standing next to you to gently support you.
My fourth tip is not to wait to the funeral to see your relative's coffin. My visit to see my father was my preparation for the funeral. A time for my private grief. By seeing him in his coffin, I knew it was time to let him go. He was no longer there.
We are humans. We are vulnerable. That’s who we are. We live short lives and the tears and sobbing are the price of living and loving.
I wish you all the best
In January 2019 I attended my father in law’s funeral. The most moving moment of the whole day was when my brother in law took two minutes to compose himself enough so that he could continue his speech about the love his father had for his mother. Those two minutes were full of love, courage and tears.
This blog was re-published with additions on May 7th 2019