As is typical of Jewish funerals, the members of Roz’s family shared loving memories of the truly special person she was. Above all, her generosity, was a theme. Her home was the site of all the family gatherings and she extended this warmth to our book group. We met at her apartment monthly for about ten years and were always welcomed with a hug, a lovely set table, and tea after dinner. Her relationships with her son, step-children, and daughter-in-law were clearly central to their lives. How meaningful it was to hear from the people who loved Roz. I remember being so disappointed in the Rabbi’s predictable words at my own parents’ funerals, but of course, he did not know them.

But then I started to wonder, when we are honouring a life and the reality of the death, should we only capture the good, the happy, the joy? This idea led me to thinking that maybe I should compose my own eulogy and have someone read it at my funeral. What I would want recounted would be what I made of my life, the joy, the sadness, the rebirths, the challenges, the moments of survival. It certainly would not be as positive as many eulogies, but it would be an honest reflection of the life that I had lived.

Would it be too revealing? What would I care, I would be dead! And anyhow, those close to me had lived through the traumas with me, big and small.  I would reflect on what I considered my greatest personal achievements, which would not be the Ph.D., or the students I taught, or the children with developmental challenges and families I helped. Yes, those are proud parts of my story, but the hardest work I ever did was living through the internal struggles that caused me angst for a good part of my life. My greatest achievement by far was the feeling of emerging from the wear and tear of periods of anxiety and/or depression, with a hard won wholeness, replacing the fragmentation I had felt before.

The more I think about it, the more I think writing my own eulogy is a great idea. We should hear from the deceased on that day, of their troubles and triumphs. I would talk about the chaos of marrying a childhood sweetheart when there was very little sweet about it. And the unmooring I experienced when after being together from ages thirteen to thirty, we parted.  As traumatic as that was, it led to my first rebirth and the euphoria of living as I didn’t know was possible. The apartment  on Christopher street in Greenwich village, surrounded by a tight group of friends, finishing a Ph.D., living alone and joyfully wasting time and money decorating my rental apartment. I was anxious, but I was making my way through my first therapy, nurtured by my therapist in a way I sorely needed.

And eventually, I moved on to a second marriage to another lovely man who I admired but maybe did not love in the way that could sustain a long term relationship. That divorce sent me into a very dark period. With the help of my second therapist and my circle of compassionate friends, I did it again–recovered and blossomed.

Along the entire way, there were friends—the chosen family rather than the given one. I felt so loved and so loving toward them and they were key to my recoveries. All that talking, analysing, problem solving, gossiping, crying and laughing. The joy of it all!

My day-to-day life was filled with the conscientious teaching of aspiring speech-language clinicians and the caring for saddened families. I was consistently grateful for the path I had chosen in my life and never doubted that it was right for me. At the same time, I considered it a miracle. I chose to be a speech-language pathologist when I was about eighteen at someone else’s suggestion and what it morphed into was hardly recognisable from what I thought I had chosen.

Some years after my second divorce, when I was approaching my sixties, I decided no more men, no more relationships. I missed out on a lot and I knew it, but I lived more happily and relished the freedom of singlehood. My spirits were more consistently upbeat and my attitude sunnier. And although I was pretty sure that this joy in being alone came from some neurotic place, I didn’t care. I accepted and sunk into it.

So at my funeral, I think I will have the last word. I will ask the mourners to dwell on the enormous gratitude that I had for my life, which despite cultural standards, I saw as a tremendous success. I overcame, I was resilient, I reinvented, and I survived . . . well up until this point that is.

Article by Author/s
Sima Gerber
Sima Gerber, Ph.D., CCC is a Professor of Speech-Language Pathology in the Department of Linguistics and Communication Disorders of Queens College, City University of New York. She has been a speech-language pathologist for over 40 years, specialising in the treatment of children with autism spectrum disorders and other developmental challenges. She received the Distinguished Achievement Award from the New York State Speech-Language-Hearing Association and is a Fellow of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

8 Comments

  1. OK…that was amazing. And now I want more. I feel that this essay is a jumping off point to a story of life full of insight that we could all benefit from. I vote for more please!

  2. Susan E Longtin Reply

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading your “different kind of eulogy,” my creative friend. And I absolutely love the idea of writing one’s own eulogy. We know ourselves as no other. Congrats on this awesome piece.
    Susan

  3. An astounding work of reflection – shared with your “Sima-ian” honesty and insight. Your journey filled with “recovery and blossoming” – with gratitude for so much in your life – including the lessons you’ve learned along the way that have contributed to your growth and reinvention.
    My great priviledge has been being one of your friends on this journey.
    With SO much pride…..
    Glenn

  4. WOW,! What incredible honesty from an incredible person. You have achieved so much at so many levels. Yes, life is never smooth and easy but you have always risen to the occasion. Your circle of friends have always been there for you at every step of the way. They are indeed your family of choice.

    But your eulogy is missing one of my favorite stories. Apparently, one day after giving a lecture, a young female student came over to you and said how much she admired you. You made the assumption that she made this comment about your professional accomplishments or your excellent speaking skills until she commented on your beautiful clothing. So that needs to be added to the eulogy- someone who radiates both an inner and an outer beauty.

  5. What an incredible piece by an incredible women that I am so honored to call my friend. You are the most amazing woman my dear Sima. There is no one like you. Your honesty is breathtaking too!!
    Much love,
    P

    • Dear Sima
      This is such an honest and hopeful recording of your life thus far. You have shown such strength and courage and the will to find accomplishment and serenity in your life That is why all your friends admire and cherish you. Your honesty, hopefulness and caring about yourself and others is what I truly love about you
      Renee T

  6. I totally agree. ee. Reply

    I totally agree.
    No one knows you like you know yourself.
    And it’s satisfying to be able to speak for yourself and evaluate your life..
    Others can only ever know the outside and in a eulogy tend to be superficial anyway, avoiding anything negative or difficult.

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