Thursday, December 10, 2009

Eulogies, Funerals and Obits

Posted By Ann Rabinowitz


As I get older, there are more occasions to attend and be made aware of the lives of one’s family and friends when they pass on. This past week, my first cousin Eric Glanger passed away in Australia. It was a sad occasion as our family started out with my thirteen maternal first cousins and now, with Eric’s passing, there are only five of us left. We all felt our mortality at his passing.

Eric had been born in Manchester, England, to my mother’s sister Ada and her troubled husband Hymie. Eventually, they split, but not before they moved to Australia in 1949. Eric left home at an early age and managed to gain employment as a civil servant, marry and raise his daughter as a single parent after his young wife died.

His mother and sister left Australia and lived with my family for a short while before returning to England in 1956. This left Eric alone in Australia to build a life for himself and his daughter. It took a lot of pluck and courage to overcome these obstacles and Eric had it aplenty.

His passing reminded me that there are so many things beyond what we search for as genealogists that give us the depth of a person’s life. These are things which may come up at the funeral in eulogies and afterwards in printed obits. It is quite important to try and collect information on these things and to perhaps quiz relatives about the person who has passed away at the time of their passing.

Recently, quite a number of people have been sending me the eulogies given at funerals and the obits published for my relatives and friends in addition to the usual letters and e-mails of a person’s passing. My cousin Eric’s eulogy, for instance, was given by his daughter Maxine. It reflected so many aspects of his character that I was not aware of as I had not grown up with him and had not known him on a daily basis.

There were tales of his naughty behavior as a child which were recounted by his younger sister Laura which were things that were legendary in the family. I remembered hearing my mother’s sisters joking about them when I was in their company.

In addition, there were mentions of his personal characteristics which made him seem so much more human. He became not at all a cardboard memory based on the regulation records and other such data we genealogists are prone to focus on. I found that he enjoyed music and was a backyard vegetable gardener. He had a dry wit and cared deeply about his family.

Further, he enjoyed fixing things, as had his Glanger grandfather who was a tinkerer and creative inventor. This reminded me too of all the little things he had done around the house for my parents on a visit he made to them.

He realized the importance of education and had encouraged his daughter Maxine to be the best that she could be in school. As a result, she graduated near the top of her medical school class, one of the few women to do so.

I learned how he met his third and last wife, Inez, and that he had been attracted not only by her looks, but by her brains and personality. They had made a happy pair who shared these last few years together.

Had it not been for the eulogy, a copy of which was sent to me, my knowledge of Eric would have been limited to stories told to me by my mother and other relatives, two visits he made some years ago and correspondence between us over the years. It would certainly not have included hints of the day-to-day minutiae of his everyday life or his interests in so many things.

Doing such a loving thing as a eulogy or writing a descriptive obituary and sending it out to relatives is a wonderful way to bridge the distance gap we all have in today’s world. Very often, families are located so many miles or even continents away from each other and this gap means that members cannot participate in the last rites of a relative’s life.

I will cherish Eric’s eulogy as a fond remembrance of a life well-lived and a person who was well-loved by his family no matter where they lived or how intimately they knew him. It reminded me too that, sometimes, it is the person’s life itself and not only their death and other written records that we should be looking for when we are working on our family trees.

1 comment:

  1. Ann
    Your piece was moving and thought-provoking.

    There was a gap of about 40 years in my relationship with Eric.from our childhood days to a time about fifteen years ago, when he arrived on our manchester doorstep, complete with rucksack, modesty, thoughfulness and his love of music.
    I had remembered him as a harum-scarum character, whose exploits frightened the shy little boy I was.
    As an 80 year old, his outlook on life was unchanged. He still took the side of the underprivileged and the weak.
    To my regret, I never discovered if he knew Studs Terkel, or Prof Zinn, who died recently. He was on their side.

    ReplyDelete

Comments are welcome. Please post responsibly.