The Eulogy

CAUTION: This story contains references to domestic violence and descriptions of childhood emotional abuse.

I stood at the podium looking out at the sea of faces, unfamiliar and familiar, the funeral director’s words still ringing in my ears. It’s okay to be raw and honest. There’s no right way to grieve. They’re just looking for the  comfort of a shared experience from you.

Ah, there’s the rub. How could I be raw and honest, and still give them comfort? These people, good people, did not know my father like I knew him. They hadn’t been there when I was eight, running late for school, running behind the car as my father – fed up of yelling for me to get a move on, fed up of punching the horn like it was my mother’s face –  drove down the driveway, just a little too fast for me to catch. They hadn’t been there when my father inevitably stopped near the letterbox at the end of the drive, refused to unlock any of the doors, let the engine idle, lit his pipe, and ignored my pleas.

They hadn’t been in the car with me on those long silent drives to the exclusive boys’ high school my father insisted on enrolling me at, even though all my friends were at the local public school, even though I’d begged him to let me go with my friends, even though I was bullied and ostracised at this posh school filled with people who knew the cost of everything and the value of nothing. They hadn’t been there for the daily guilt of never measuring up to his absurdly high standards, of feeling beholden for the sacrifices he made for my education.

They hadn’t been there for the belittling of my dreams of playing cricket for Australia — or India. I had the choice after all. They hadn’t been there for the daily lessons in how to demean and gaslight women. How many times had I heard the story of how imprecise women were with directions?

I ask your mother where the towels are, and she waves vaguely at the linen cupboard and says they’re on that shelf. How am I supposed to know which shelf? So imprecise! I never responded, never told him that the towels inhabited the same space on the same shelf for at least twenty years.

No, these people – good people, who supported my father as cancer ravaged his organs, who supported my mother with meals and relief and company – did not know him like I knew him. They had known him as jovial and benevolent, tutoring their children through final exams, opening his house for all visitors, running the local community association. They knew him as gregarious and generous, giving freely of his time, his food, his expertise. And he was all of those things. To them.

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath.

“Thank you all for coming out today. My father would have been delighted to see so many of you here, remembering him, supporting my mother and me,” I began.


Image credit: pixabay/tonyarucker

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12 thoughts on “The Eulogy

  1. This is beautifully written and relate-able. As the final lines bear out, there is strong societal, or maybe just human, pressure to remember the dead as saintly.

    The examples of the father’s cruelty, both willful and careless, are vivid and creative. A well-told story!

  2. What a powerful piece. I felt awful for the narrator, having to suffer twice, all through his childhood and then struggling to deliver a eulogy to that same man. The specific instances of abuse are described vividly and I really feel the kid’s pain. This story made me think about how we can never really know the dynamics of someone else’s family, even when we think we do.

    • Thanks, PirateJenny! There’s nothing like a wedding or a funeral to bring all the skeletons out of the cupboard, right? People are so complex. When my father died, my siblings and I (there are 4 of us) were going through different stories about him. It was genuinely surprising how many stories we each had that the others didn’t know.

  3. The paradox was so strong here. I love how you focused on the moment before the MC spoke. It made the ending feel complete and gave a full sense of his predicament. If I were to give criticism, I might suggest adding a few setting details to plant the scene in the readers’ minds and maybe lose the cliche of “sea of faces.” But you captured the dual emotional arcs that are present at many funerals.

  4. Asha, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how people can be both good and bad and how many people can see only one side or another. I sympathized so with your MC. I think leaving the ending open to interpretation was effective.

    • I hear you! Capturing those nuances is so hard, especially in a short piece. I’ve been working on filling out my characters a bit more, and when it works, it’s so rewarding. They come so much more fully to life. I’m especially delighted that you saw the ending as open to interpretation! That’s what I was aiming for.

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