My father is near death, and among many anxieties I'm going through is the feeling of dread at having to arrange the funeral etc. I know this seems trifling considering what my dad's going through, but I'm also terrified of speaking in front of a gathering; I'll have to say something at the funeral...will it be OK if I just say I LOVED MY FATHER VERY MUCH, AND I MISS HIM TERRIBLY, then walk off the dais? Or do I have to mention this and that...Sorry, I'm "Fahklumpt" at the moment.
There is no specific requirement for you to speak, and it's certainly sufficient to say what you suggest. The purpose of a eulogy is to allow people to express the pain of the loss. That does not have to be done by the son or any particular individual, but it should be done by someone or some set of people.
Answered by: Rabbi --- Not Active with JVO Suspended
Let me begin by saying how sorry I am to hear what you are going through. Preparing to lose someone you love is never easy, no matter how much notice you have, so my heart goes out to you.
As you think about the funeral service itself, you are right to be thinking about the eulogy. Giving a eulogy is a mitzvah, although it is not a mitzvah that is obligated on the mourner itself. Rather, because it is to honor the deceased, anyone can do it. Typically at a funeral service the Rabbi will try to integrate the stories, memories, and values that he or she gleaned from the mourners before the funeral itself. In the Rabbi’s eulogy he or she will be able to express many of your thoughts which will pay tribute to your father. If you chose to speak as well that would certainly be fine, but given your expressed anxiety about speaking in front of a gathering, you are not obligated to do it at all. You can choose to just say something brief, as you expressed in your question, or you can choose not to speak at all. People will understand that you are in mourning and you did not feel that you could compose yourself to speak. I would imagine, based on your question and your concern that you do want to honor your father, is that you will provide enough information to the Rabbi that he or she will be able to appropriately honor your father and convey your love for him as well.
If you still feel conflicted however, you could take it upon yourself at shiva, when it is less of a public speaking moment, to share some thoughts and reflections on your dad.
Finally, might I suggest, if you don’t already have a Rabbi that you can turn to, to speak about these issues in preparation for the funeral, that you seek out a rabbi with whom you are comfortable so that you have someone who can be with you as you work through this time of grief.
Let me start by offering your father my sincere wishes for healing, whether that be physical or other, so that he may reach a sense of wholeness and peace. I also wish you the same wholeness, particularly emotionally and spiritually.
Regarding the preparations: with the thought of helping to ease your dread, let me suggest that you try to recall if your father has ever expressed what he would want for his funeral. If he preplanned or wrote directions, following his wishes should feel easier, and may make you feel less pressure about the process of preparation. If he has never said anything, and he is in a position to tell you, perhaps you can speak to him and ask. If he cannot tell you now, perhaps he has spoken to others in the family in past.
If you can find no information, then you will need to make some assumptions about what you think your father would want, which you can base on information you know or can readily gather, or obtain from the rabbi and/or funeral director. Matters such as how traditional your father is, how drawn he has been to ritual observance, the customs in his religious community and the area, the rules of the cemetery organization, and requirements of the rabbi (or other person) who will officiate, will all help set the parameters for the funeral. With all of this, there are really not too many decisions for you to make, and once you initiate the process, all the pieces will fall into place fairly smoothly. The major tasks left to you will be notifying others – family and friends. So, as sad as the task may be, you need not dread it – others will help you through it.
As to speaking: your fear of public speaking is a very common one – you are certainly not alone. Not to be flip, but a survey of Americans showed that given a choice, a majority said they would prefer to be in the casket rather than delivering a eulogy next to it.
Speaking at the funeral of a loved family member is not an easy task. On the one hand, you may be emotionally swamped by sadness, sorrow, loss, and grief, among other emotions, while at the same time you feel pressure and want to be able to share something significant about the person and how much they meant to you and others. When you add to all that the underlying fear of speaking in public, you have a potent mix that can overcome the strongest among us. So it is certainly understandable that you might be worried about speaking at the funeral.
Only you can know how you will bear up and react. If you are able to speak, there is no one else who can honor your father at that moment better than you, no matter how eloquent their words or how famous or effective a public speaker they might be. Yours are the words of a beloved child for their parent at the time of loss; spoken with emotion and honesty there is no more fitting statement or expression of feeling that can be offered.
If you can express yourself there, even if you are interrupted by displays of emotion, it is certain to be a meaningful way for you to honor your father. As hard as it may be, you will know that you did your best for your parent at that time.
And if you feel that you will be too overcome by emotion to speak, perhaps you can write out what you want to say, and ask someone else to deliver your words. That will still be an honest expression of your sense of loss and understanding of what you have lost.
Either way, you will be honoring the memory of your father, which is the purpose of the hesped (or eulogy). So, to answer your question, I would urge you to prepare to speak, then do so if you are able, or ask that someone else read your words if you are not.
As for what to say, there is no set requirement for length or content. At the same time, if you are the primary speaker for the hesped, it would seem appropriate to say more than that you loved your father very much and will miss him. The hesped is to help others remember the person who is no longer with us, to paint a word picture of them, honestly recalling his or her best, the good deeds and kindnesses, the actions and the character traits, which will all be missed, but remembered, as the lasting legacy of that person.
Unless someone else will be addressing these kinds of recollections, it would seem to be a brusque send off not to mention any of this, so I would suggest that you consider writing more than you indicate, and then, if you feel that you can only deliver the statement you indicate yourself, you can have someone else read the rest of what you write, on your behalf. That way, you will have fully honored the memory of your father, and done what you felt you were able at the moment.
May you be granted the strength and courage to deal with this, and to act in a way that would make your family proud of you.
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