ep·i·log n. – A piece of writing at the end of a work of literature or drama, usually used to bring closure to the work.
I was struck with a new revelation after attending a funeral recently. I realized someone else gets to put an end to your story. In novels, it’s called the epilogue. In life, the eulogy.
As I drove home from the service, I reflected on all the stories I had just heard about the deceased. She was the beloved mother of one of my writing mentors. Naturally, he imbued his recollections about his mother with a few great stories. One included her love for IHOP and how she demanded to stop and eat there one day after getting a biopsy. Said biopsy was still in its sealed medical jar and was supposed to be en route to the hospital via the patient. But on this day, my friend’s mother insisted she had time for a quick Rooty-Tooty-Fresh-And-Fruity before couriering her biopsy to the hospital. So there it sat, on the table at IHOP inside a McDonald’s sack my friend thankfully found in his car. He said he watched it “with the care of Top Secret documents” while she enjoyed her pancakes.
Another story about this woman came from one of her granddaughters who spoke lovingly about her grandmothers’ famous stories. She told us that all of her siblings had a “Help Me” code to flash to one another when grandma’s story was taking too long. The non-grandma engaged sibling would vanish to another room and call the other sib’s cell phone, necessitating her ability to take leave from grandma without insulting her, such was their respect for their elder. And you and I both know, you cannot assume this kind of respect between the generations.
And the stories went on. Some were touching. Others were funny. All filled with respect and admiration for a woman who lived and loved. Still, I had to wonder if this feisty, well-loved woman would have told her stories just the same way. Only she could answer that.
So it got me to thinking, especially as we enter the season of generosity, that I want to be mindful of how my own eulogy might read. Would it include stories about a sense of humor, compassion and willingness to help? In other words, would it be written the way I might write it myself? I think you’d agree that a eulogy and an epilogue have a great deal in common – and it’s worth thinking about how you’d want someone else to summarize the story of your life while you still have a chance to influence the plot. Because as someone once wrote, “When we die we become ‘stories’ in the minds of other people.”
Karen Harrington is the author of JANEOLOGY, a novel about a grieving husband who endeavors to find clues in his wife’s family history that might explain her sudden, inexplicable crime.