I wish you didn’t need this. You shouldn’t need this. But if you do, I am placing this here for you as a small offering of love. You are not alone. If you are called to write a remembrance for your child, I am with you. You can do this.
A few days after Ewan died, I googled “how to write a eulogy for an 8-year-old.” Google replied, “About 0 results (0.63 seconds).” I loosened my search to “how to write a eulogy for a child.” The top return, among 7 million, instructed me to do the following:
Step 1: Begin the Writing Process as Soon as You Are Able.
Step 2: Gather Ideas.
Step 3: Research Quotes, Bible Verses, or Poems to Use in the Eulogy.
Step 4: Write, Share, and Rewrite.
Step 5: Practice the Eulogy in Front of a Mirror.
Fuck you. fuck this, I thought. I don’t want a 5-step formula; I want my child back! This isn’t a research project. This is not a problem with a quick-fix solution, a leaky faucet, and no way I am going to practice giving a speech about my dead child in front of a mirror. I slammed my laptop shut and pulled the covers back over my head. Clearly, I was not able.
I had been in bed for a week. Blinds drawn, lights off, door closed. I didn’t get up to brush my teeth, or change clothes. Tea and toast appeared on my nightstand by the grace of face relatives who wondered into my room, but I didn’t eat. I was under the covers, crowded by crumpled up Kleenex. I was crying and I wasn’t sleeping. I was remembering. I wished for things to be different. I listened to the arrhythmic beating of my broken heart. In my aching head, I knew there were things to do. As a parent, there are always things to do. Unfortunately, I needed to add a few more to my list:
- Find a funeral home
- Decide on an outfit for deceased child
- Plan a service
- Find a venue
- Write a eulogy
My broken heart said, “Writing a eulogy for my eight-year-old is too hard. I can’t.” But my head swarmed with a beehive of words circling in and out of my ears. Even up in my nostrils. I shooed them away. Shapes of words amassed around my shut eyes. Sweet and tenderhearted stories kept bobbing to the surface of my brain. I remembered how Ewan used to lip-sync to feel-good songs in the middle of the kitchen. When he danced, his feet skip-hopped in place. His shoulders shimmied while his hands fanned out and undulated with a vibrating excitement. He mouthed lyrics and grinned from ear to ear in unabashed child-style. His entire body let loose to music with joyous electric intensity. He couldn’t stop the feeling even if he wanted to. I remembered such kitchen dance party moments like they were yesterday. It had been just two months. Ewan was the sunshine in my pocket, and now he was gone.
Tears streamed down my face. The source of the rising tide of tears was somewhere behind my eyes, maybe in my disfunctioning forebrain. Tears flooded my head and washed away the swirl of words. I needed a break. I sunk back down into the pillow, back into the empty, dark, quiet place — my new world.
How could I string words together and structure sentences when I couldn’t get dressed? It felt like the stakes were too high to talk at my son’s memorial. Everyone would be tuned in, all eyes on me. Still, I wondered if this was my last chance to help loved ones tuck Ewan into their hearts for safekeeping and carry him forward into a future his is not longer able to imprint on. The world has a short attention span and moves on quickly. I owed it to Ewan to give my best shot at writing a memorable eulogy and I had to get it right. Holding his hand as he died was the hardest thing I’d ever done. Leaving the hospital without him was the second hardest. Writing his eulogy was the third most challenging task. By writing about his life and its ending, I was acknowledging his death. I was accepting a new reality I didn’t want to be living in. Writing a eulogy is an act of loving someone a lot and letting them go a little.
No magic, prescriptive, 5-step formula for penning a eulogy for a child exists, but I will share how I did it. I kept a little notebook inside the top drawer of my bedside table. The notebook has gently rounded corners and an elastic closure. Occasionally, I force-propped myself up with a pillow to my back and jotted down my jumble of thoughts. Very soon into my writing fury, I slid back down. My pen-holding hand drooped to the floor. Writing was draining and hard. And yet and essential expenditure of energy. I unwillingly wrote my child’s eulogy is fits and bursts; it was like drinking liquid glass.
Writing a eulogy is an act of loving someone a lot and letting them go a little.
Sometimes during the writing process I closed my eyes and pictured myself in a large, silent room. I was in front of a downcast audience. Their long, heavy breathes made the walls of the imaginary room swell and contract. I heard feet hanging down from benches, barely brushing the floor. I wondered, who is this audience? I could see that they were Ewan’s fellow third-graders — his friends and his friends’ parents. They were my friends, family, colleagues, and neighbors. Once I focused on their familiar faces, I asked myself, “What do I want Ewan’s friends to know about him?”
He was funny! It was an unexpected answer, but a keystone of Ewan’s character. Of course — he loves to laugh! Laughter constantly roiled up from his bone-thin, boyish belly and across his cheeks. Glee sparkled like sunbeams that shot straight through his blue eyes. Naturally, I started his eulogy with a knock-knock joke.
Then I asked myself, “What else?” What else does the world need to know on the one day when we celebrate, memorialize, and honor Ewan’s life together? My most imperative message: Ewan is tenderhearted goodness. Ewan was sensitive and kind. He always thought of others first. Ewan craved human connection. He wanted to plug into people physically and emotionally, all the time. He took my hand when we walked to school together. He wiggled over and sat in my lap when we attended his older siblings’ concerts. He wanted me to stay in the room when he used the toilet and brushed his teeth. He rested his head on my legs when we watched movies at home. He slept in bed with me at night, tucking his hand into my armpit as if he were charging an electronic device. These memories gut me and break me down. I can still feel the heat radiating from his hand. Eight to ten years of age is the high-water mark of childhood — peak purity and innocence. He loved us with uncorrupted innocence and singular focus. We love him back in kind.
At the core of my eulogy, I needed one striking anecdote that spoke to Ewan’s genuineness and the pain associated with my loss of him. Pick any intimate moment, any exchange of love, and you can draft the heart of your eulogy. It may shatter you into micro splintering dust clouds of a million pieces of glass. Be prepared to cry. These tears are needed to soak up the slivered shards of glass, pool yourself back together, and push the clump of what used to be you through the pain. When you give the eulogy, there will be someone in the audience who is practiced at clamping down their inner emotional state. Scan for that person and lock eyes with them — they will steady you. Have tissue within arm’s reach. Take your time. Breathe. Rest assured that everyone in the room is here to hear your invaluable words; they are here for your beloved and you. Time has stopped. Trust and draw on the collective strength in the room. The links in the room are there to lock arms and catch you and carry you through your difficult and darkest fall.
You now have written your beginning and middle. The ending is the most complex, most sorrowful part. I chose to scribble in a call to action. Ewan was an artist, and I asked his friends to participate in an annual art competition the next year in his memory. Then, in one cherished story, I shared how Ewan and I closed out each day. Nights ended with me reading him a story. Once the bookmark saved our spot, Ewan closed the pages and smoothed out the hassles. He placed the book down. We dimmed the light and snuggled in the near darkness under the blankets. After a few minutes, I motioned to get up and started to say a final good night. He always interrupted and asked, “Will you stay with me for two more minutes.”
I always obliged. I said, “Yes. Do you know why?”
He answered, “Because you love me.”
I smiled. “That’s right,” I reassured and invariably, we fell asleep together. A perfect perfect end to our days.
I’d give anything for two more minutes with him.
No search engine will power you through writing your child’s eulogy. When I was desperate for a gentle page to show me how to prepare and make it through a memorial for my third grader, I came up empty-handed. I wanted tips on writing and giving a funeral speech specific for my child and my child’s catastrophe. The intro on most funeral-themed websites immediately tried to assuage readers with a bland definition of a eulogy, a speech given at a funeral by someone who knew the person who had died. Such words throttled me into a rage. Knew him? Dad and I made him! He was part of me! The internet knew nothing and infuriated me.
During the nine months I was pregnant with Ewan, we were one. The day he was born, my second heart, the one that had grown from me, inside of me, left my body and moved out, into my arms and into the world. My role changed. I was still charged with keeping him safe and healthy, but now my mission of motherhood morphed into a phase that included fostering his independence by loving him and letting him go. Little by little, I entrusted him in the arms of other humans. I left him at home for a few hours with a babysitter. We separated for a few hours each day when he went to preschool. Remember that first yellow bus ride at the start of kindergarten? This was a day when my second heart rode away and started to embrace his life. in elementary school Ewan found his own passions, interests, and friends. Then, his life was short-circuited by cancer.
When Ewan was six and diagnosed with leukemia, Ewan and I fused as one again. I transformed into something more than a mother: I became his caregiver. I hoovered and worried and researched and drove all around town. Mostly, I sat by his side. We all thought he’d be cured. Cancer had different ideas.
I was in the room when Ewan took his first and last breath. Oh, useless internet — unquestionably, I was qualified to give a short speech about his life and what he means to me. During my darkest time, when I needed one answer, Google had zero helping hands.
The most reliable and trusted resource is yourself and your child. Listen to the cues circling in your head. Listen to the murmers of your heart informing you when you need a rest. Pay attention to what your child is teaching you. Write a loveletter to your child. Share with the room and the world what your child loves most. Maybe it’s Harry Potter or Percy Jackson or Disney Plus. What would capture your child’s attention and imagination at a memorial? Ewan’s third-grade class sang “Remember Me” from the movie Coco. It was the last movie Ewan watched at home for family movie night. His head rested in my lap.
I requested for memorial service guests, young and old, to wear Harry Potter and superhero costumes. I hoped that, by being cloaked in playfulness, Ewan’s friends would feel comfortable and safe. In turn, it helped me to look up into a sea of sad faces and see blue Captain America t-shirts with rings of red circles hugging huge white stars. The stars navigated me back into the moment where I was standing in front of our supportive community, reading my son’s eulogy.
We read a passage from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 34, “The Forest Again.” This is the part where Harry must die. I felt my heart pounding fiercely out of my chest during the reading. Ewan and I had read that exact chapter together three weeks before. How was I to know that James Potter’s words, “We are… so proud of you,” would echo in a sanctuary with piercing profundity? I hoped Sirius knew what he was talking about when he assured Harry that death doesn’t hurt, “Quicker and easier than falling asleep.”
Now, like Harry’s mother, I stay close to Ewan, always, by talking and sharing and writing about him. Experiencing the death of a child is a one-way entrance into a pitch-black, prickley-pine needle bedded forest. It is terrifying, unmooring and sucker punches the breath out of you. I am lost most of the time and still out of breath. Know that you are not alone. On the hardest days and through the roughest terrain, when Google falls short of answers, others are wandering through the forest before, after and with you and have loving hands to offer.
Writing a eulogy for a child is an extraordinary act of parenting, one that fosters an unthinkable form of independence. It is loving and the first step in learning to let go.