Category Archives: Living Years

How to write a eulogy

Princess Diana had the most publicized funeral in history. It was broadcast worldwide. The most powerful part was the eloquent and moving eulogy delivered by her brother, Charles Spencer. At one point he said, “I don’t think she ever understood why…there appeared to be a permanent quest on (the media’s) behalf to bring her down….Of all the ironies about Diana, perhaps the greatest is that a girl given the name of the ancient goddess of hunting was, in the end, the most hunted person of the modern age.”

Great eulogies make great funerals. Of course, it’s absurd to think of a funeral as great, but some are memorable. Eulogies can be remarkable, moving experiences for speakers and audience members. You might assume eulogies are as common as flowers at memorial services. Unfortunately, this is not so. Not all families are able to find someone who is willing and able to write and deliver a eulogy. Some funerals go without; others rely on clergy who may not have known the deceased. The results can be disappointing.

None of us likes to contemplate the loss of a loved one or the call to duty to deliver a eulogy. Reading this article now, however, you will gain a brighter perspective on this task and discover the benefits of the writing process as a healing tool

What A Eulogy Should Accomplish

There are two common misconceptions about the purpose of a eulogy. Some people think 1) it should be an objective summation of the person’s life; or 2) the eulogy should speak for everyone who is present at the memorial service. These are unrealistic assumptions.

A eulogy is much more simple. Of course, it can include information about the person’s life, but primarily it should express the feelings and experiences of the person giving the eulogy vis-à-vis the loved one. The most touching and meaningful eulogies are subjective and written from the heart. Aeulogy does not have to be perfect. Whatever you write and deliver will be appreciated by the people in attendance. If you are inclined to be a perfectionist, lower your expectations and just do what you can, given the short time-frame for preparation and your fragile emotional state.

When you set out to write a eulogy, realize the burden does not have to be yours alone. Ask friends and relatives for their recollections and stories. In a eulogy, it is perfectly acceptable to say, for example, “I was talking to Uncle Lenny about Ron. He reminded me of the time Ron came to Thanksgiving dinner with half of his face clean-shaven and the other half fully-bearded. It was Ron’s unique way of showing he had mixed feelings about shaving off his beard.”

Be honest. For most people, there are a lot of positive qualities to talk about. Once in a while, however, a eulogy has to be given for someone with mostly negative traits. If that is the case, omission is the solution. A eulogy is not a confession. No one will find fault if you leave out negative details. Talk about positive qualities and, if you must mention the negative, try to put a compassionate spin on it. For example, “She struggled with her demons and they sometimes got the best of her.”

Tips For Delivering A Eulogy

A eulogy may be the most difficult speech you ever deliver, but it may also be the most rewarding. Calm yourself by realizing that people are not going to judge you. They will be very supportive. No matter what happens, it will be okay. If you need to cry in the middle of your speech, everyone will understand. Take a moment to compose yourself, then continue. Don’t be embarrassed. Remember, giving a eulogy is a noble gesture that people will appreciate, admire, and remember.

If you can, make the eulogy easy to read. On a computer, print out the eulogy in a large type size. If you are using a typewriter, put extra carriage returns between the lines. If you are writing by hand, print the final version in large letters and give the words room to breath by writing on every second or third line.

Before the memorial service, consider getting a cup of water. Keep it with you during the service. When you go to the podium, take the water in case you need it. Sipping water before you start-and during the speech, if needed-will help relax you.

Before delivering the eulogy, breath deeply and remind yourself that you are surrounded by loving friends and family. They are with you 100 percent. If you would find it easier, read the eulogy without looking up to make eye contact with the audience. Take your time. Do the best you can. Just be yourself.

Writing As Therapy

Writing in general-a eulogy, a letter, a journal-presents a valuable opportunity to discover a new therapeutic tool to help you deal with grief, sadness, ambivalence, confusion or other needs for change. On some level, you already know how therapeutic writing can be. At one time you may have written an angry letter and not mailed it, but felt better for having written it. In the case of a eulogy, writing brings up memories, rekindles feelings, and acts as a catalyst. It has been said, “The only way out is through.” Writing helps you revisit emotions that are important to the healing process, so get your feelings on paper. You do not have to be grieving to use writing as a tool to help you gain clarity on an issue or to motivate yourself to make changes in your life.

There are many ways to use writing to deal with your loss. Some people keep journals or diaries; others write letters. Some people send e-mail to friends; others write poems or stories. There is no right answer. Experiment. Do what works for you.

Julia Cameron, in her book, The Artist’s Way, tells aspiring artists to set aside time each morning to write. She calls it, “morning papers.” You can call it, “mourning papers.” Every morning take the time to write three pages of thoughts and feelings. Write long-hand rather than using a typewriter or computer because there is a better connection between the hand and the heart. While writing, don’t concern yourself with spelling, grammar, punctuation, being redundant, or making sense. Write half-baked ideas, thoughts, or feelings if you want. The goal is not to write something good or something that will ever be read again. The goal is to write simply for the sake of getting it out of your system.

Mourning papers can cover anything-complaints, dreams, frustrations, feelings, and so on. Nothing is too trivial. Complain about the barking dog next door. Write about your life’s dreams or sorrows. Create a grocery list. Brainstorm goals. Unburden yourself of pain, sorrow, fears, and regrets. You can think long-term and create a better life for yourself or you can work on immediate needs. The only rule is there are no rules. Let whatever is on your mind flow onto the paper.

This is a very powerful exercise during which you will make several discoveries:

*The process is enjoyable.

*Your thoughts will flow quickly and the important ones will be pushed to the surface with great force.

*It is easy to fill up three pages.

*You might have to stop to cry, especially if you are mourning or in pain.

*The process frees you of petty complaints and obsessions.

*You will look forward to these morning writing sessions.

Bringing up the pain, although unpleasant, is part of working through it. I’m not a therapist, but from experience I know that repressing feelings is counter-productive. Shakespeare once wrote, “Tears water our growth.” The power of writing is undeniable and there is no better time than now to take advantage of it.

Writing and delivering a eulogy is a noble gesture that is worthy of thought and effort. It is an opportunity to make a contribution to a memorial service-a contribution that you, your friends and family will long remember. Think of a eulogy as a gift to yourself and others. Embrace the opportunity to brighten an otherwise dark time.

Garry Schaeffer is the author of “A Labor of Love: How To Write A Eulogy.” This 96-page book has helped thousands of people since 1995. It includes: a “How-To” section with writing tips and short-cuts; sample eulogies of famous people, including Gandhi, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., Princess Diana and others; poems for memorial services; and much more.

Article and photo courtesy

When you create a Lifebook for your loved one, you can upload the audio eulogy from the funeral so that people who ere unable to attend can hear the eulogy and you ill have it stored for years to come.


Unusual Funerals

1330252When most people think about funerals, they usually think about traditional services that are held in either a church or funeral home, with a burial and gathering of family and friends for food afterwards. Many people these days aren’t so traditional, though. These individuals feel that funerals should be a celebration of a person’s life instead of a time to merely pay respects to the deceased person or mourn their death. They want funerals to be fun, if that is at all possible.

These unusual funerals, sometimes referred to as “alternative” can really be quite creative. Many of them may seem more like parties than funerals, which is usually the intention. There have been numerous unique ways to celebrate the life of a special loved one; there are companies that make “coffin” cakes, special urns that when opened, play the song, “How Dry I Am,” as well as many other uncommon funeral-related items.

Another popular way that people choose to memorialize their loved ones is by creating online memorials such as our service, Living Years. Aside from its convenience, there are several advantages to creating a Life Book. First of all, family members and friends are able to visit the website as often and whenever they desire to. Secondly, families can post photos of the deceased on the website, as well as poems, video clips, music, and anything else that they would like to have included.  For more information on creating a free Life Book, visit Living Years here.

These days, people don’t want pricey funerals, so many opt for simple memorials, instead. Many also desire to have their remains dispersed in some unusual manner rather than placed in an urn and displayed on someone’s fireplace mantel. This is usually decided by the deceased, prior to death, or possibly even the family.

For instance, Gene Rodenberry, creator of the hit TV show Star Trek, requested that a portion of his ashes be blasted into space.

Additionally, and even more shocking, is the fact that one deceased man’s cremated remains were used to create an egg timer, which most people find utterly unbelievable.

08Some deceased individuals make advance arrangements to have a specific theme at their funerals. More and more funeral homes are catering to these requests because these types of personalized funerals often bring great comfort to the family and friends-and surprisingly, usually a lower cost than conventional funeral services.

Traditional funerals will of course, always remain the norm for a majority of people, but for anyone who desires an “alternative” afterlife celebration for their loved ones to “enjoy” rather than dread, there are numerous possible choices to choose from. And if the theme or idea that a person has isn’t available at the alternative funeral home of their choice, most funeral home directors are willing to cater to almost any request.

It doesn’t matter if a wife wishes to have her deceased husband’s remains placed inside her diamond ring or a family chooses to hire jazz performers at their loved one’s funeral, if it makes the family happy, nearly anything is possible.

Thanks to Stacey J. Day for the inspiration.

Jane Flemming in this week’s New Idea

janeflemmingLiving Years ambassador Jane Flemming is featured in this week’s edition of New Idea.  In the article she talks about marriage, motherhood and her role at Living Years.  From the article:

Has family become more important to you?  And is that why you’re now an ambassador for the bereavement website

It’s definitely important for the boys to know about their family and about their grandparents and who they are.  I realised I didn’t know one of my grandfathers middle names.  I have to ask my dad.  And Ian’s mum passed away so we are going to create a page for her on so when the twins are old enough they can read about her and know what she was like.

What exactly is

It’s a bereavement care site.  It’s a site for grief councilors and for hundreds of suggestions for charities in lieu of flowers at funerals.  A page can be created when a person dies and then people can click on the particular loved one’s site and ass a memory or a thought about that person.  It can be as public or as private as you like.  It’s nice for other people with access to the page to be able to go online and read what’s been said.  It’s all part of the grieving process.

Click here to view a PDF of the complete article.

The importance of palliative care

CIMG5919L to R: Kate VanderVoort, Barry Epstein and Louise Evers from Living Years.

Living Years recently participated in “TOGETHER:  Cultural Connections for Quality Care at the End of Life” Conference in Perth, Western Australia.  This conference provided an opportunity for people across the world to come together to address the issues and challenges involved in providing quality care at the end of life for all.

Over 130,000 people die each year in Australia and half of those are seen to be expected deaths. Palliative care is the active and specialist support and treatment of people with an illness that cannot be cured.  Palliative care is provided by various health professionals who care for patients whose needs exceed the capacity and resources of primary care providers.

Talking about Living Year’s participation, Kate VanderVoort said, “We had many visitors come to see the Living Years stand. There was such positive feedback from all the delegates with many taking brochures to share with their team and the clients/patients they work with.  We connected with many businesses also, such as funeral directors, coffin suppliers and people who are working at the forefront of palliative care. We know that Lifebook’s will soon become a major part of the palliative care process, across Australia.”

For more information on palliative care, please click here.

A Day that Changed Me – From tsunamis to toddlers – drowning causes shared grief

Kate VanderVoort from Living Years attended the National Drowing Prevention Day on Saturday and she has written a very moving account of her experience.


On Saturday 3rd October, I flew from Sydney to Brisbane to represent Living Years at the National Drowning Prevention Day, organised by Hannah’s Foundation. As I walked into the Church in Booval (near Ipswich) the emotion in the room was palpable. I was surrounded by families, many young families, who all were there for the same reason. They had lost a child, grandchild or sibling to drowning. For some it had been years and for others very recent. Regardless of time, the grief was written on every face.

Picture 1A beautiful ceremony was held and as each name of more than 60 drowning victims was read out, the family silently walked to the front and lit a personalised candle for their loved one. Families had the opportunity to share a poem or a reading. A number of them were written by the family about their lost child. Not many were able to hear those words without shedding a tear and sharing in the grief.

The Samoan community joined with relatives of those lost in drowning tragedies closer to home. Samoan community leader Tagi Faanana and wife Emma represented the families of those lost in the recent tsunami in the Pacific.

The memorial service ended with families collecting helium balloons in pink, purple and blue, before moving outside to release the balloons. There was a meaningful silence as we all stood and watched the balloons float off into the distance. Some stayed and watched well beyond the point where they were still visible.

Whilst the air was heavy with grief there were two things that stood out in contrast. There were many children present, some old enough to understand the purpose of the gathering, others gurgling, chuckling and shrieking with joy as they played, oblivious to the emotion around them. These sounds were like a beacon of hope amidst the sadness. As the names were being read out, a blustery wind was blowing through the open windows and pollen from a nearby wattle tree was falling from the ceiling. It was like snow and many looked up and smiled as though they knew the meaning.

At the function after the service, we shared the beautiful Lifebook that Andrew and Katherine have created for Hannah (click here to view) and encouraged families to set up their own Lifebooks for their loved ones. Living Years is proud to be supporting Hannah’s Foundation by donating $10 to the Foundation for every paid Lifebook (for a minimum of 1 year) created through Hannah’s home page.

I will never forget that day. It was truly humbling to be present and to share in the grief of people I have never met. I am deeply touched by the work of Andrew and Katherine Plint, who tirelessly campaign for changes to pool safety laws and provide support to other families who lose a loved one to drowning. They are the kind of people who change you, just by their very presence.

Photography courtesy of The Queensland Times.

Living Years helps in the fight against drowning

NDPAMD LogoOn Saturday, October 3rd, more than 200 people who have been affected by a drowning related accident from around the country will join Hannah’s Foundation, a non-profit organization promoting drowning awareness, at a special memorial service and national day function in Brisbane to remember those they have lost.

“Hannah’s Foundation started after we lost our own daughter, Hannah, to a drowning in our backyard pool,” explained founder Katherine Plint. “We had recently purchased our house, and when she drowned, we actually found out that pool was not compliant and was also illegally built. We had nowhere to turn to in Australia as a support group, so we decided, as Australians, that we would start our own.”

Patron of Hannah’s Foundation, QLD Police Commissioner, Mr Bob Atkinson APM and founders Andrew and Katherine Plint along with other families will be present at the memorial service and national day function to launch a new inspirational independent film titled Swim Across Australia produced by Suzannah Cowley and follows the story of Mark Gubyani, who tragically lost his daughter Kaitlin to drowning.

Katherine Plint’s greatest hope for Hannah’s Foundation is that it will give a powerful voice to drowning prevention. “… [Drowning] doesn’t discriminate, [regardless of] race, size, vocation, status in society. Hannah’s Foundation is currently advocating the Queensland State Government to overhaul their pool legislation. It’s one of the largest overhauls in this country in the last 20 years. Whilst that is done, we will then start on all of the other states. We’re also working with other charities internationally, and we’re also in the process of helping three other families worldwide: one in South Africa, one in Canada, and one in Ireland to set up a foundation in their children’s names to advocate drowning prevention in that country as well.”

In conjunction with the Plint family, Living Years has provided a Living Years Lifebook for little Hannah, creating a space her siblings, family and friends can visit, share memories, see photographs and view videos of their beloved Hannah. The Lifebook has also been set up so that donations can be made directly to Hannah’s Foundation in her memory to help raise awareness of drowning prevention. In an effort to raise much-needed funds for their valuable continuing work, $10 from every Lifebook purchased will be donated to the foundation.

Living Year’s very own Kate vanderVoort will be present at the memorial service where she will share Hannah’s online memorial with the 200 people in attendance – Kate will also discuss how Living Years Lifebook pages can create a meaningful, memorable and long lasting tribute to celebrate the life of a loved one.

Hannah Order of Service Photo

In addition to the Brisbane memorial, a collection of families associated with Hannah’s Foundation from around the world including the United States, Canada and South Africa are expected to release purple, pink and blue balloons in memory of those who have drowned. Meanwhile in Australia balloons will be released in every state.

To purchase tickets to the memorial service please email Hannah’s Foundation on and register your interest.

PROFILE: Heath Ledger

Heath LedgerAustralian television and film icon, Heath Ledger (4 April 1979 – 22 January 2008) moved to the United States during the 1990s to pursue what would become an outstanding career. Some of his 19 films include the Australian smash Two Hands, 10 Things I Hate About You (1999), Monster’s Ball (2001), Brokeback Mountain (2005) and The Dark Knight (2008).

As Ennis Del Mar in Brokeback Mountain, Ledger won the 2005 New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor and the 2006 Best Actor award from the Australian Film Institute. For the same role he was also nominated for Best Actor at the 2005 Academy Awards and the 2006 BAFTA Best Actor award.

Ledger will also no doubt be remembered for this mesmorising performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight which opened with the largest ever North American box office weekend figures, $US 155.3 million. Ledger was nominated and won awards for this role, including the Academy Award for the Best Supporting Actor, Best Actor International Award at the 2008 Australian Film Institute Awards, the 2008 Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actor, the 2009 Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor in a motion picture and the 2009 BAFTA award for Best Supporting Actor.

At the age of 28 Ledger passed away from an accidental toxic combination of prescription drugs. The death came during the final stages of post-production of The Dark Knight and whilst Ledger was still filming The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus directed by Terry Gilliam from Monty Python fame. Fellow actors Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell have since stepped in to complete the film and donated thier earnings to Heath’s daughter Matilda in remembrance to a great actor, father and an thespian.

Visit Heath Ledger’s LIFEBOOK here.