Dale Fetherling, the coauthor of my book, died last month. He was one of the good guys, with broad shoulders, a deep voice, and a love of words. I knew him mostly on the professional level, but I liked and respected him and I’m saddened by his death.
His memorial service was quite touching. And I was especially moved by the reflections shared by three of his colleagues.
A eulogy, according to the ancient Greeks and Romans, is supposed to “praise the dead, and inspire or instruct the living.” I think its purpose is to evoke memories of the dead in a way that consoles the living.
The eulogies at Dale’s service did just that. Here’s what I think they got right.
First, because all three eulogists were themselves veteran journalists, they wrote their scripts and read them. They chose their words carefully, making each phrase and each sentence count.
Second, they told stories. Funny stories. “I’ll bet you didn’t know this about Dale” stories. And, since they were talking to people who shared similar experiences of him, “do you remember how he used to do this” stories. Each story brought Dale to life in our imaginations and brought out our affection for him and brought us together.
Finally, they let their affection show. They clearly admired and loved Dale. They grieved his loss. And they let it show. Each one had to pause somewhere in what they were saying — usually in the middle of a story — and choke back a sob before carrying on.
The purpose of a eulogy is the same as the purpose of a funeral. (Speeches are supposed to serve the event in which they are situated.) And these eulogies served that purpose. I left the service feeling that my grief was shared, honored, and eased.
May he rest in peace.