Eulogies, and why they aren't for lightweights


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My experience with public speaking was, once it came to actually doing it, no more than a matter of conscription.

There come times when everyone involved in a situation where public address becomes required when looking around is required, looking around for someone with even a modicum of experience to do what must be done.

Certainly, I had seen many well-executed addresses; I had seen famous people speak, and so on. But seeing is one thing, doing is another. But again, I was fortunate in this respect, because I had played on stages, as a musician, and that is clearly the half of it...being onstage. I had literally lived my life around the stage, one way or another.

Eventually, if you go that road, the conscription happens, and you do it. For a long time, it was boardroom presentations. It was being married for ten years to a powerful woman who suffered, then overcame public speaking anxiety...imagine having that for a job when you have such a reaction (vomiting, say). I helped her overcome it, or at least I pointed her in the right direction. The man that, whether he knows it or not, whose ideas convinced and healed her was Nathaniel Branden.

That involved reading his psychological work, and also watching him speak. I do know she was "cured" sometime after that and went on with full confidence thereafter (a brief stint working with Toastmasters reinforced it, I think, something we used to equate to "exposure therapy").

Branden has a way about him on the podium, and he is the best I have ever seen; he is the master of the pregnant pause, meaning, he is not afraid to wait long enough so as to formate his ideas carefully. He is gracious in that way both to his audience, and himself. We learned from that--in music, this practice is equivalent to learning not only to appreciate the notes, but the space between them, and what all that means. It is, to me, virtually the definition of substantive drama.

Ah, "exposure therapy." But, there are some things you can never be ready enough for, expose all you want.

We buried my wife's brother, a great, loving, poetic musician of a junkie, and that was my first time speaking over death: I was told by the priest (it was a Catholic funeral) to read scripture. I was conscripted, and chose only to make the most of the material I was given, and I do not to this day remember which scriptural passage I read: I only made the most of it. At that time in my career dealing with such black issues, I adopted a simple strategy (there is no time for many elements when addressing an audience, because the emotion will make one lose faculty, if one is not prudent)...I would simply feel him, what I knew of him, and meanwhile try to maintain composure so as to address the crowd with some kind of clarity.

And I say again, though...some things you can't prepare.

Last week, my music writing partner and best friend died, suddenly, for no predictable reason; it was a freak thing, a thing that came literally hours after we had just turned the corner for insured success. I live with his family, his wife, we were mutually adopted, so it was up-close and beyond personal. Suddenly, for instance, what was once your downstairs rehearsal studio is a museum/mausoleum.

And I had seen him all that day. That morning, I went down to our studio to prepare a guitar lesson, he was there, having stayed up all night on a creative roll. He proudly showed me four new sets of lyric for our songwriting work. He read them aloud to me, one after another.

One thing that happens, in unexpected circumstances, involves scrambling for a funeral service. Part of this involves finding some main speaker; usually one of the spiritual community, or maybe someone else--you're looking for Emerson.

I went to my Unitarian world (one that I know, but don't fly through these days) and found that Reverend (they are always seasoned, sensitive speakers, because they are also, and more constantly conscripted).

He came to our house and sat with the familly for an hour. How to spend one hour, only, and eulogize? His work was cut out for him.

It was also then established that I, and my partner's son, Kyle, would speak. I coached the son down to the hour, in general terms: not the content, but to protect him from dissolving. He did, in the end, but through that came great honesty.

In the midst of this crisis, of which I was the newly elected elder, I had to prepare my own remarks. That meant I had to sit in the front row, facing the coffin of my partner Ted, and listen to first Reverend Wayne, then Ted's son.

As to my preparation, well, I was trying to encapsulate; I had limited my remarks to two minutes or so (it went to about four, and that was good). How I did it was to go down into yonder museum/studio, take ~his~ pen, and the paper he used, and went to my room to prepare bullet points. As I sat down, his favorite movie popped on the TV (Hunter Thompson, again...Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), and that made me laugh...I found a riff! "Buy the ticket, take the ride." Thanks again, HT.

I won't go into what I said, but I did get the notes the Reverend made. Here are his speaking notes:

___

A Celebration of the Life for

Theodore (Ted) Podgorski

February 7, 2009

Wiers Funeral Home, Sheffield Ohio

The Reverend Wayne Arnason, officiant

OPENING READING

To everything there is a season

And a time for every purpose under heaven.

A time to be born and a time to die,

A time to plant and a time to uproot;

A time to kill and a time to heal;

A time to pull down and a time to build up;

A time to weep and a time to laugh;

A time for mourning and a time for dancing;..

A time to seek and a time to lose;

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven. We know that all things in life must have their time, their cycles and their seasons. This afternoon is our time to remember and to celebrate the life of Theodore Podgorski.

WORDS OF WELCOME

Good Afternoon. My name is Rev. Wayne Arnason, and I serve as parish co-minister at the West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church. Ted’s wife Andrea and his family friend Richard Engle have invited me to be with you today to gather you as family and friends to mourn the death and celebrate Ted’s life.

All of Ted family members gathered here today are grateful for your presence and so appreciate your support during these past difficult days.

We want to honor the fact that the circle of Ted’s family and friends here today represent different religious convictions and churches, and differing attitudes about the meaning of life and death, all informed by your own faith and life experience. My prayer for us all today is that in our personal faith tradition and understanding, we find strength to accept what we cannot understand or change, and that we find comfort in the continuing blessings of life which continue even when we suffer such loss.

What does unite us today is the ways that the life of Ted Podgorski has touched our lives, as a husband, as a father and as a friend. We are united today by our sadness that he has left us far too soon. There is a sharp and poignant edge to Ted’s unexpected death that means we share not only sorrow today, but many other feelings as well. Our time together today is not going to be a time to resolve or heal all of them. We are here instead to remember and to celebrate all that we will carry with us of Ted Podgorski that has not died with him.

Accepting our feelings should also be accompanied by accepting our limitations. Few of us are prepared accept the limits of our own power to change a loss that has come too soon. So where do we turn today – for consolation and for meaning in what has happened? Certainly, we turn to Ted’s own life, and the ways in which the gifts of life he gave and that inspired him continue on in us. We turn to each other, to the continuing ties of family, friendship, church, and community that are so evident when we grieve a loss. We turn to the spiritual traditions from which we come and to the understandings and faith we have individually embraced that offer comfort at our times of our greatest struggle. Although each of us must come to our own answers and consolations, it is important that we have come together as one community today. Both the grief, and the gifts, of Ted’s life need to be shared.

Death is not an end to joy and laughter. Ted would not want us to extend our sadness on and on into time. So we are here for both an ending and a beginning, a beginning to a life that will not have Ted present in person. His meaning in our lives will become part of that new life, and his love will be ours forever. Jesus told us “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” This is our hope for this time together.

A CELEBRATION OF LIFE

The bare facts of a person’s life are never enough to understand all that someone has meant in our lives, but the facts are a place to start, and a match that can light a fire of memory inside each of us.

Theodore “Ted” Podgorski, was born on April 6, 1952, in Mount Pleasant, Pa., the son of Katherine and Joseph Podgorski. Ted was raised by his father Joe along with his brother Michael and his sister Mary Ann , who are both with us today. They previously lost their oldest brother Joe some years ago.

The family moved to Cleveland area when Ted was five. He attended grade school in Cleveland and middle and high school in Fairview Park.

Ted married his high school sweetheart Pam and they had a ten year marriage and a daughter Heidi together. We are glad that both Pam and Heidi are here with us today and that Ted and Heidi reconnected in recent years.

There were two aspects of Ted’s personality that surfaced early in his life. He had a hunger for the road, and wanted to see the country after he graduated from high school. After his daughter was born, Ted found he could make a living and live with the road.

So hauling freight as a truck driver was a career that he took up early and stayed with as the primary way that he could provide for his family throughout his life.

But early on, Ted also realized that he could entertain people. As a young man he did some children’s entertainment as an animal character, and he taught himself how to play the guitar and realized he had a gift for playing and writing songs. The ability to tell stories to children and to tell stories in songs came together and became the another important theme that runs through Ted’s entire life.

After his first marriage ended, at such a time of transition, Ted made the decision to give that transitional time to his country and proudly served in the U.S. Marine Corps. It’s not an easy thing to become a Marine at age thirty but Ted did it.

When he left the service he stayed out west and settled in Oregon where a whole new chapter in his life began. There were friends from Fairview Park living in the Ashland Oregon area, and so Ted went there. He kept up his musical interests and got together with a band called the Ventilators that is remembered well for their contributions to the emerging rock andf roll of the 80’s in the Pacific Northwest.

Most importantly for Ted, he found friendship and lifelong companionship in a new love, Andrea Doyle, who married Ted and became his wife of twenty-six years. They built a life and a home together with their dog Babe.

Ted and Andrea decided to begin a family, giving birth to Kyle in 1985 and Cory the next year. Ted was a good dad, and as someone who had always enjoyed entertaining children, he carried that into the time he spent with his own children and more recently his grandchildren.

With his new family to take care of, Ted went back into trucking. After a few years, the Podgorski’s decided to leave Oregon and return to Ohio while the children were still young in order to be closer to family and friends. They eventually settled here in Lorain County. Ted worked for several companies here in Ohio but his longest commitment of ten years was hauling for Ohio Eastern Express. His family remembers him lovingly as a generous man who wanted happiness for others. He worked long hours to support his family and never complained about it. He could mediate a dispute or entertain in a conversation with equal ease. People liked Ted and he got along with all sorts of different people in his work and social life. His greatest happiness was found in the times spent with family and friends enjoying each other’s company and enjoying music.

As his kids became older, Ted came back to his old love of playing and writing music.

He wrote songs incessantly and played a lot just for himself. Despite being a prolific writer and fine guitarist, he was not sure about returning to performing. In the last year, Ted met Richard Engle and the two of them formed a friendship and musical partnership that was exciting and moving to both of them.

Ted was a gifted rock lyricist, drawing on his long years of experience on the road for images that could help us picture the America he had seen through the window of his truck, an abandoned America that is fast fading away. Richard saw the possibilities for bringing together the right group of musicians to play Ted’s work. Together they were working on an album called “Nearing Jupiter”, and there is a lyric that Ted wrote from the title track that I find so haunting as we gather to mourn his sudden and unexpected death:

Moving on and on again,

Millions of miles

Moonlight's my guide

It wasn't planned

I've passed by your house,

seen you again...

I've had coffee there,

Moving on and on again.

Prairie sweeps on by in a blur

Night's the best, and, in a time gone by, maybe some rest.

SILENT MEDITATION

Each of us has our own memories and relationship with Ted that none can take away. aS we enter now into a silent time of private reflection, I invite you to use this time as your own faith or practice may suggest: for silent prayer, for memories and recollections, or for simple quiet appreciation for all that Ted Podgorski has meant and will continue to mean in our lives.

We join together in silence.

HOMILY

There is no consolation that can completely heal the pain and sorrow that comes with losing Ted. A husband, a brother , a good friend, cannot be replaced. In the midst of our grief, however, we are here to remind each other that even death is limited in its power to take away the gifts of live that we have found in our most important relationships. We know that what he has been in our lives can never leave us. I think Ted would have agreed with this anonymously written definition of success that I have always enjoyed:

"to laugh often and love much; to win and hold the respect of intelligent persons; to earn the approbation of honest critics, and to endure without flinching the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty always, whether in earth's creations or in human handiwork; to have sought for and found the best in others, and to have given it oneself; to leave the world better than found it; to have played with enthusiasm, laughed with exuberance, and sung with exaltation; to go down to dust and dreams knowing that the world is a wee bit better, and that even a single life breathes easier because we have lived well, this is to have succeeded."

So where is Ted now? Clearly he is still with us in so many different ways. An anonymous author these wrote words that have brought comfort to many by reminding us that our life, and our love, does not stop at another's grave.

Do not stand at my grave and weep;

I am not there. I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow.

I am the diamond glints on snow.

I am the sunlight on ripened grain.

I am the gentle autumn rain.

When you awaken in the morning's hush

I am the swift uplifting rush

Of quiet birds in circled flight.

I am the soft stars that shine at night.

Do not stand at my grave and cry;

I am not there. I did not die. - anonymous

CLOSING PRAYER OF THANKSGIVING

We close our service with words of prayer :

Spirit of Life, known to us as the love and beauty we find in our lives, we are grateful that we have had the opportunity today to reflect on those things for which our gratitude knows no bounds, seen and understood in the life of Ted Podgorski.

We give thanks for those experiences we have shared with him that have expanded our knowledge of ourselves and of the world, that have quickened our imaginations, enlarged our sympathies, and taught us the meaning of love and fellowship.

We give thanks for all the people who surround us and minister to us when we go through a time such as this: the loved ones who live with us and with whom we share the essentials of life, the friends who stand by us.

We would hold in our minds the needs and sorrows of others as well as our own needs and sorrows, seeking that we may know the places where we may serve; and how to do the right thing in the right spirit.

We would learn to accept the hard and bitter things which we have known and suffered, the mysteries of pain, of sickness and of death. We pray that we may gain from them a truer sense of direction to follow in the days ahead.

We would fashion from our grief and sadness a garment of praise to the goodness of life, that our love for him who has gone before us may be witnessed, renewed and strengthened in our love for others.

So may we be part of the world's light and not its darkness; its faith and not its fear, its love and not its hate; so may we know in new and deeper ways that we are a part of one another. Amen.

Benediction

And now, may peace dwell in our hearts

And understanding in our minds

May courage strengthen our wills

And the love of truth forever guide us. Amen

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The funniest part of the address is where he wonders how Ted came to knew he was an entertainer... "He played an animal character."

What that means...well. Ted was "Snorky," not the TV one, but the Snorky that toured the US. The Snorky of the infamous Banana Splits.

Once, he told me about how their tour bus broke down... (We were just a bunch of hippies touring the country, wearing suits, partying...). The Jackson Five tour bus picked them up and took them to get gas.

No business like show business, indeed!

We will miss you, Snorky. He used to take showers above his band mates...getting ready to come down and rehearse, and we could hear him up there trumpeting (literally)...

rde

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banana_Splits

Edited by Rich Engle
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Thanks, Rich. This was very nice. I agree with your "not for lightweights" evaluation. My opinion of Cher went up immensely when I heard her say that eulogizing Sonny Bono was the most important thing she had ever had to do. Thanks.

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Thanks and you're welcome to Brant and Ted...ah, praise from on high, right? ;)

To watch his son dissolve in front of everyone, that ended up being every bit as poignant and talked about to the, er, "audience," as all the words we other two put together.

The other thing that was odd when I did my bit was that I was seeing people for the first time...people we were writing songs about. I knew a great deal about them, they knew nothing of me. It was all very odd, but came together as best can be in these things.

I can tell you one thing, there was a hell of a party back at my compound after all that. And I made sure they heard some playing...Ted would've insisted upon that.

I process death differently than some, because I've had so much of it, and I end up being put into a responsibility position. So you wait around and let it out bit by bit. You turn and make that into something meaningful, positive.

Footnote: the son came to me last night and requested an audition, to replace his father as lead singer. Wow. He's handsome, charismatic, very young. He said "I just have to see if I can do this." I think he can, with a bit of coaching, become that. Tragedy aside, I am a pro and I have requirements, but we will see in time. I told him, blackly... "Oddly enough, in case you didn't know, your timing is great...I happen to have an opening available. You have played and sang some, and the other day you experienced the ultimate in stage fright (speaking to that crowd), so how bad could you be?"

rde

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Rich,

Thanks for posting this. Your post was well felt, well thought and well written. I found it very moving. You have truly honored one of those most sacred of beings: an individual human who forges his own destiny.

-Ross Barlow.

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  • 4 years later...

Just came across this interesting topic. My father had requested no eulogy, so we did not have one for him, just the traditional Anglican service.

My mother I knew wanted one, but not multiple speeches from friends and relatives. )Anyone who has read my related posts knows Ma pretty well).

So I spoke for about five minutes about her. It was not written down but I think it was one of the best things I ever composed. Certainly it was the most deeply felt.

Tributes and reminiscences are best for the wake/reception after a funeral, And for the rest of the lives of those who remember.

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