A eulogy for the living

Often at the hospital, I’m with families in the time before a loved one dies. I encourage them to talk to their loved ones.

The family members start talking about how much they love the person. They talk about the moments that mattered. They talked about how much they will miss the person. They start thanking this person for the ways they were helped. In the best situations, people are remembering together and out loud, making sure that this person hears that they mattered to these people.


The person in the bed is often not able to respond, often not able to hear the words that could have been helpful to them, that would have let them know that their life mattered, that their presence on earth was significant, that they hadn’t spent their whole life letting people down.


I’m not trying to pile on regrets. I’m actually suggesting something helpful going forward.

What if we thought about the people we care about most. and rather than waiting for the inevitable end of life, we started talk to the people that we love more than anyone about how much they matter, about what they actually mean to the people around them?

What if we started offering eulogies to the living?

I’ve spent time around funerals and memorial services. And the best eulogies have two important sections.

First, eulogies identify the actions and characteristics that matter.

“Eddie was a great guy” isn’t much of a eulogy. And it’s not much of a compliment.

What did Eddie do?

He always worked in the background making sure that other people had what they needed to succeed, like a ride or a car or $10, like a clean workspace.

He always looked for something to say that was helpful in really hard moments.

He always showed up on time.

“That is a mark of competence.”
“That is evidence of compassion.”
“You don’t believe it yet, but that shows who you are becoming.”

The second part to a good eulogy is expressing what we actually feel.

Telling our kids that we are proud of them.
Telling our kids that we love them.
Telling our life partners that we see their fear as we go to work and we are grateful for them.

What are the things that you could say about the people you care most about?


A couple things will happen when you offer a eulogy to the living.

  • It’s more helpful than spending our time together complaining about the stupid people around us.
  • It lets people know that they matter to us.
  • It gives them something to live into.

My friend Lee Warren is a neurosurgeon. He talks about how our thinking can actually rewire our brains. And we can change the soundtracks playing in the brains of our loved ones by telling them now that we love them and why.

2 thoughts on “A eulogy for the living

  1. Dale Ann

    Thank you for this, Jon. My bro-in-law passed suddenly this morning. Comforting to know he loves Jesus as his Savior and lived a life of compassion and mercy for others.


    1. Jon Swanson

      Dale Ann –
      I’m so sorry for this sudden loss.
      You are in the process of thinking through an actual eulogy.
      We will be asking God to give you and your family an awareness of His presence during these days.


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