Saturday, January 7, 2023

Why Wait for the Eulogy?

by Elizabeth Venart

In December, a dear friend turned sixty. She and her husband were throwing a party to celebrate, inviting friends and family from every facet of her life. When she initially invited me to “a holiday party,” she didn’t even mention it was a milestone birthday for her. This friend is incredibly kind and thoughtful, funny, and welcoming. In part because she is so humble and unlikely to ask for attention or thanks, and in part because she is such a good person, I felt inspired to write a poem to toast and honor her. Rather than rely solely on my observations, I reached out to her husband, our shared friends, and a childhood friend of hers, to get their descriptions, memories, funny stories, and interesting details. Compiling the list from others and adding my own thoughts, I assembled a list poem, added some fun rhymes, and created a toast to honor her. Here is an excerpt:

Thoughtful, considerate,
Warm, caring, clever, bold.
Wicked sense of humor,
inner sparkle, heart of gold.

Bubbly, conscientious,
hard-working, fiercely loyal.
Invited over for dinner?
You’ll be treated like a Royal.

What mattered to me was not how perfectly things rhymed nor the rhythm following some specific pattern. Instead, I focused on capturing her spirit through description, infusing a sense of play, and, through heartfelt sharing and fun anecdotes about her unique talents and traits, making sure she felt fully seen.  

After doing this, I found myself reflecting on how infrequently we give people the gift of being honored in this way. If her husband hadn’t let me know it was her 60th birthday, would the idea of writing a tribute toast have even occurred to me? It is common practice to make toasts at weddings, anniversary parties and special birthdays. It is customary to write a heartfelt eulogy after someone has passed. But why do we wait for these moments? Why risk an opportunity to express the love and gratitude in our hearts?

Writing a Tribute or Praise Poem

Eulogies provide an opportunity to reflect on a person’s life, sharing who they were and what they meant to us. The Cambridge Dictionary defines eulogy as “a speech, piece of writing, or poem containing great praise, especially for someone who recently died or retired from work.”  However, eulogies need not be reserved exclusively for funerals and endings. Tributes and praise poetry are additional spoken and written forms that celebrate and honor. The Academy of American Poets defines a praise poem as “a poem of tribute or gratitude.” [Insert link to:]. Praise poetry and singing have been (and continue to be) a significant practice in Africa and in cultures around the world. Praise poets perform at ceremonies, rituals, and festivities and use storytelling to capture the essence of the person being praised.

“Your life is a poem,” proclaims Naomi Shihab Nye. We make poems by observing life and writing it down. Odes and tribute poems honor a specific subject of our observations and affection. They need not rhyme, and you need not know poetry. A list can be a poem. Any time we speak from the heart, our love is a living poem.

You know what you love about the people in your life. Maybe you just need some time to reflect — and a gentle prompt — to begin gathering your thoughts.

Start with one person. Brainstorm a list of everything about the person that you see and appreciate. Looking through old photographs may help jog your memory. Personality, behaviors, strengths, unique qualities and habits, specific experiences you have shared. The simple words I love you are powerful, and details infuse life and meaning into that sentiment. Details show “I see you” and “I adore all these very specific things about you.” Tributes, both prose and poetry, can be built from everyday remembrances. Our descriptions provide snapshots, glimpses into a person, a relationship, a life being lived.

After writing the tribute toast for my friend’s birthday, I felt inspired to write another for my longtime friend who is moving from Pennsylvania to Denver. She is vibrant, full of energy, has strong opinions and a great sense of humor. I integrated shared memories, funny facts, and descriptions of how she shows up in the world. Here is a sample:

At my wedding, got us laughing, gobbling up red roses.
Dramatic toast, sang an Aria, did silly dance move poses.
Loves restaurants, Thai, comfort food, ordering lots of dishes.
Mac and cheese, roasted duck. Just skip the smelly fishes!

Having caught the writing bug by this time, I wrote several additional tributes in that same week. It was a delight to sit with pen and paper reflecting on everything I loved about the people in my life. Memories and fun details started springing to mind more easily. In writing each person’s tribute poem, I landed in the final line on my love and appreciation for them. The writing was a way to say “I see you” and “I love all I see.” My poems included one for a beloved child in the family. Keeping with a fun rhyming pattern that she would find engaging, I focused on things she loves and does right now. Children change so quickly. The poem reflects a snapshot in time of who she is in this moment, knowing some things will stay constant and other things (like her interests) may change. Here is an excerpt:

Fan of rainbows and purple, hearts and bright pink.
She’s clever, determined, can stare and not blink.
She’s playful and silly, loves gymnastics and soccer.
Loved her from first moment I held and rocked her.

As we approach this February’s celebration of Valentine’s Day, why not carve out some time for creativity and put pen to page to honor those you love? Do you have a friend you would like to honor? A parent? A sibling? A teacher? A child? Perhaps you would like to write a love poem to yourself — as you are today or maybe an honoring of yourself at a different age.

Writing can be a lot of fun, but sometimes it is hard to get started. Since I’ve been having so much fun writing praise and tribute poems, I’d love to support you with yours. Poet and women’s writing group leader Tracie Nichols joins me in offering a free two-hour writing workshop (via Zoom) on Saturday, February 4th from 10 am - 12 pm. Our time together will include meditation, journal prompts, list-making, and invitations to speak from the heart. While our focus will be on one person in your life you want to honor, the process we share is one you can use again and again to tap into love — and create a piece that expresses it.

Writing is not the only way to share our love for what makes someone dear to us. Musicians write songs of tribute, some with words and some instrumental. Some photographers are very adept at capturing the spirit of their subjects, illuminating light, grace, zest, or other personality traits. Some artists draw or paint their loved ones, an expression that highlights their inner beauty. Creativity has no bounds. Neither does love. May it spring forth effortlessly from you and embrace you. To share love is to experience it. And that is always a good thing. 

Elizabeth Venart, M.Ed., NCC, LPC, is a Licensed Professional Counselor and the Founder and Director of The Resiliency Center of Greater Philadelphia. She specializes in supporting Highly Sensitive Persons in embracing their strengths and living authentic, joyful lives. An Approved Consultant in EMDR Therapy and a Certified IFS Therapist, she offers clinical consultation and professional trainings to other therapists. She is passionate about supporting people in healing from trauma, making sense to themselves, decoding the puzzles that keep them stuck, and living their best, most fulfilling lives. Learn more at

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