Tom's Columns

1. My Father's Death/Making a Box
2. Singing the Grief/ My Eulogy for My Father
3. Fixing a Hole/Grieving With Other Men
4. Reverse Anthropology/ Learning about healing from Tribal people
5. Stewarding Children's Grief/ Helping Families Heal Together
6. A Family Ritual for the Year Anniversary
7. When Grief Recedes/ Grief is Like a Cloud
8. Healing Through Our Strength/ Knowing Our Weakness Part 1
9. Healing Through Our Strength/ Knowing Our Weakness Part 2
10. Stress and Grief

Singing the Grief/ My Eulogy for My Father

Tom Golden LCSW


There is a good deal of evidence which indicates that men have a long history of connecting their emotions and pain through some action, place or thing. An example of this might be the Potlatch Ceremony of upper northwest North America. Described in more detail in Swallowed by a Snake the Potlatch offers a contained ritual space for men and women to experience the grief that is present. The men sing "sorry songs" which chronicle the life of the deceased. These are not memorized songs but spontaneous expressions of grief through "singing" the life of the person who died. There are examples such as this from all over the world. The Dagura men of Africa dance out their grief. The Ylongu men of Australia sing and dance their grief. All of the above are activities which act as containers for a man's grief. The men of these various cultures are familiar with these activities and their use. They have seen other men in their communities perform these rituals for as long as they can remember. The rituals are a part of their realities and when the time comes to put them to use they are ready to put this "friendly tool" to work. Both the men and the women of these cultures are given roles to play and tasks to accomplish in the grief rituals. The men, women, and children carry out their own unique part thus creating a community of mourners. These rituals are excellent models for our present day dilemma of finding ways for men and women to simultaneously express their grief while honoring their gender differences.

Our culture has none of this. We are deficient in almost any designated active rituals that allow for the open (and coed) expression of grief. In my mind one of the last remnants of these rituals (in the U.S.) is giving eulogies through writing or speaking. Giving a eulogy is similar to "singing the life" of the person who died. We can chronicle the events of the person's life and state how that person impacted our being. By making a public statement we honor the life of the person.

The men I have known who have done this sort of speaking uniformly respond that it was an important experience in their life. The memory of speaking or sometimes writing carries on through the cycle of their grief and becomes a marker for their experience. By remembering the act of speaking the man connects with the feelings that were present at the time and those that continue. Somehow it is easier to remember the act of speaking and the associated feelings than simply "remember" how one felt. It is easier to talk about the eulogy you gave than simply talking about the feelings. The act becomes a hook for the expression of emotion even as the grief continues.

Our cultural deficiency in active grief rituals has forced a man's grief farther underground. The men in our culture have responded to this in various creative ways (creativity, practicality, thinking) which is explained in detail in my book Swallowed by a Snake.

The following is an excerpt from some writing I did for my myself and my family. It chronicles my own experience at my fathers funeral and concludes with the text of the brief eulogy I gave for my father, Thomas S. Golden who died in November of 1994.

The Service

The next morning was the funeral service. I had been thinking all week about what to say about my father that could encapsulate my respect and love for him. It was a task that was overwhelming. I knew that there were no words big enough for the task. I also knew that my mother had requested that in order to keep the length of the service from being burdensome that I speak for only 5 minutes or so. It seemed impossible to imagine what I could say in 5 minutes that could do what I wanted to do. I made a few notes that week, but mostly relied on Spirit to tell me what the hell to do.

As we walked as a family into the church I could feel the closeness of my emotions. We sat down in the pew and as it turned out my father's brother Uncle Jake, and my six-year old son Luke were sitting on either side of me. Both were blessings. The organist started playing a Barber piece adapted for organ, Adagio for Strings. The first few bars were enough to ignite all of the emotion that was in me. Once I realized the piece I just said out loud "Oh no". That piece was a favorite of my father's and of mine. We both preferred the choral arrangement which he had turned me on to some time before. I also knew it was a piece that he wanted played at his funeral. Earlier in the summer we had spoken of this service and his desires about music etc. To hear that piece now though was too much. I went into a crying spell that who knows how long it lasted. Uncle Jake on one side feeding me Kleenexes (which I hadn't even thought of) and Luke on my other side with his little arms lovingly wrapped around my leg and knee, giving me loving pats. Luke said nothing, but his patting my leg said loudly and clearly, "it's OK dad". I was confused. Here was my little son taking care of his father----at first I felt a little guilty---he shouldn't have to do that---but oh well I didn't have any choice. I started having real doubts about whether I would be able to speak. I decided that if I couldn't speak--and just got up there and blubbered tears---that that was a testimony in itself and so be it.

I realized that as I sat there I was between the two generations. My father's generation on my left and my son's on my right. Again I had a strong sense of the cycle of life and death, its wheel-like nature, and my position on the wheel.

The more the music played the more the tears came. I was really beginning to wonder whether I would speak or blubber. When it came time for me to get up I looked toward Uncle Jake and he kind of nodded. I had decided to attempt to put myself into neutral and allow whatever to speak through me. It really wasn't much of a decision because I didn't have any other choice. The following is the text of what was spoken through me:

"I have been having a lot of feelings since my father's illness and death and we will see how long the feelings will allow me to speak.

By far the biggest feeling I have had has been gratefulness. Gratefulness to have stood in the shade of my father's tree. Because to me my father was like a tree in many ways. An oak tree. An oak who's taproot was anchored in faith and in the Divine, and with branches and leaves that act as a home for those around. I stood in that home and for that I am so grateful. It's an experience that I wish I could condense into a couple of words and then tell you. People I talk to say sometimes "I guess you can't expect your family to be like the Brady Bunch." I don't have the heart to tell them that I wouldn't ever trade my family for that, nor for anyone. It was an incredible experience to grow up in my family with my mother and father.

My fathers tree was stable, you couldn't push it, it was strong. It was a place for everyone around him to glow. He wanted others to glow. He enjoyed and reveled in the glow of everyone around him...not only his own. It is a beautiful thing for a man to be able to do that. I honor him for that. And boy, do I feel a little dwarfed by comparison. A couple of weeks ago I told him, "Dad, you have always done things so deliberately and calmly you have been a great role model for me. I just feel so overwhelmed by trying to follow in your footsteps." He looked at me and motioned with his hand as if throwing a ball at me and said, "Oh you're all right." Somehow that "oh you're all right" was the biggest blessing. He had told me many times that he loved me, that he was proud of what I did, but this sunk deeply into me and I felt it as a blessing from him like I had never received before. All the times my father told me of his love for me, or how he was proud of what I was doing or what ever, were still with me but this simple phrase moved me in a unique way.

I think I can speak for all of my siblings when I say that we always knew within our family that we were loved. It was not just us, young people would come up to my father to be listened to, to be heard and to be understood. Both my mother and father had the capacity to be with someone and to hear them without judgment. Maybe a little judgment but not much. I don't know about around here but where we grew up that's a rare commodity you don't see it very much. I was blessed to be there.

I see my father's tree as being linked with passion. Probably not the passion you think I'm talking about. I'm talking about a passion that takes an everyday moment and turns it into something joyful. Now I could give you 15 examples of this but one was our dinner table at home. When we had dinner we didn't just have dinner, my father and my mother sometimes would devise things to do at the dinner table. Sometimes it was you can't say anything without rhyming. So whatever was said at the table had to rhyme. Like "Peas please" or today it might be "I know I shouldn't oudda but please pass the budda." We had fun. My father was able to put that joy into everyday moments.

My father was also a wise man, an intelligent man. I remember last summer I told my father that I had taken every bit of advice he had ever given me, it had just taken 10 to 20 years to implement it. He and I both laughed when I said this. But there is something in this story and that something is that he allowed me to fumble the ball, to make mistakes and to screw up. He would make his opinions known but he let me go my own way and make my own mistakes and I knew his love for me even if I didn't follow what he wanted for me. To me that is loving wisdom.

My father was also a man of action. Not only did he have it up here (pointing to head) he had it in his feet too. Thanksgiving at my house was always a time for the family to be together but I always will remember that my father would give up a bit of that day to make sure that the people who lived near us had food. I honor his action.

My father was also a man who knew how to build bridges. To connect things and to bless things. When I was in my father's presence I felt his blessing and a connection to him.

There is one last reason the oak tree is a good symbol for my father. Acorns. My mother's yard now is covered in acorns. You can't take a step without smushing a handful into the ground. To me these acorns are a sign of my father and all of his blessings I have spoken of, plus a lot more. All of his blessings are left as seeds which can sprout now on their own. When I see an acorn now I'll think of my father, remember his blessings and try to pass on the seed to others."


Tom Golden is a professional speaker, author, and psychotherapist whose area of specialization is healing from loss and trauma. You can find out more about Ton's private practice here. Tom gives workshops across the country and in Canada on many aspects of this topic. His workshops are known to be both entertaining and informative. Contact Tom at the addresses below (email or snail mail) for inquiries about speaking or training for your group. You can also order his book Swallowed by a Snake: The Gift of the Masculine Side of Healing on this site or through Amazon.com

 

Tom Golden LCSW
 P.O. Box 83658
Gaithersburg, Maryland 20883
USA
301 670-1027