How to write a eulogy

  • Article by: KATY READ , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 13, 2014 - 3:44 PM

When his father, Steve, died of a sudden heart attack in 2010 at age 52, it was the worst day of Adam Goethke’s life. But the day he spoke at his father’s funeral turned out to be one of the best.

“I always knew that someday my dad’s going to die, and I’m the guy who’s going to stand up there and talk about him,” said Goethke, 31, a St. Louis Park salesman.

In between came six days of confusion and preparations and grief. Goethke didn’t have much time to think about what he was going to say. Finally, at 1 a.m. on the morning of the service, he sat down to write.

“I thought, I’m going to go through his life, childhood to death, and mix in some laughs and some tears along the way, and try to end with something a little more powerful.”

He had studied journalism in college so had experience writing on deadline. He wound up working until 4 a.m., composing a speech that he hoped would contain something meaningful for everyone in the room: his mother, his grandmother, his sisters and the hundreds of friends and relatives who would fill the church.

He wanted the speech to be funny in parts and sad in parts.

“I knew the church was going to be full of people who all kind of thought the same thing about my dad, and that is, ‘That is one goofball, but he’s got the biggest heart in the world,’” he said.

He wanted to give the speech word for word, so he worked hard to make it sound like natural speech rather than like formal writing. “I thought, ‘The tough part isn’t going to be writing it. The tough part is going to be standing up and speaking it.’”

Goethke composed a eulogy that outlined the major events in his father’s life, while also conveying the elder Goethke’s outsized personality and generosity.

“The first time and last time I saw my dad cry was when I was 10 years old,” his son began. “I was sitting in the front pew of St. John’s church in Excelsior and he had just finished giving the eulogy at his dad’s funeral. I remember he almost made it through the whole thing without crying but started to at the very end. … Ever since that day I knew I would be up here just like my dad was. I just didn’t think it would be this soon.”

Goethke told anecdotes that captured his father’s character: his announcement that he’d found his future wife — on their first date — his pride when he brought home twin daughters from Korea, his unfailing encouragement at his son’s baseball games, his sensitive treatment of an upset customer.

Near the end, Adam Goethke listed all the things he would miss about his father.

“Most of all, I’m going to miss calling you when I just want to talk to my buddy,” Goethke said. “When I just need a hug from my dad to tell me everything’s going to be all right.”

The crowd in the church gave him a standing ovation.

Afterward, a number of people told him it was the best eulogy they’d ever heard. Goethke was glad to have been able to pay the tribute to his father.

“I wouldn’t have expected to have one of the best moments of my life on one of the worst days of my life,” Goethke said. “It meant a lot to me and it always will.”

The one downside? “I’ve got everyone telling me they want me to talk at their funeral,” he said.

Katy Read • 612-673-4583

 

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