I was asked if I would like to speak at his funeral and, after a little thought, I said yes. I felt that, as the eldest grandchild, and because I was one of the closest people to him, I really should say something.
Days later we flew out to Turkey on holiday and while we were there I set about trying to write down some thoughts and ideas. I made notes on my iPhone and tried to look up websites giving advice on this sort of thing - I'd never done anything like this before. Writing proved difficult on such a tiny screen though. Days passed without accomplishing much and I began having anxiety dreams related to the funeral. Here I was in a beautiful, hot, sunny country, having a relaxing time but at night, in my sleep, all sorts of things were going around in my head.
In the end it was seat-of-pants stuff getting the final speech written: the funeral was being held in Brighton the day after we arrived back in Bristol from Turkey. I was up late that night writing and up early the next morning when we had an early train to catch. I was still adding lines in the taxi from the station to to my aunt and uncle's house where the family was gathering. Less than an hour before the cremation service I managed to print a copy off.
At the chapel the vicar approached to tell me when I would be called up to speak. Inside, there was an order of service my cousin had designed and he'd used some lovely old photos of my grandad. In order to keep it together I couldn't look at it during the service. Before long the moment had come.
Fortunately, I wasn't too nervous when it came to delivering the speech. I tried to keep it honest, so I related fond memories and spoke of the good things about my grandad. But I also alluded to some of the less-than-positives, albeit very briefly. I put some elements of humour in there too - this was after all supposed to be a celebration of my grandad's life, though to be fair people don't feel comfortable laughing at funerals. However, keeping it light rather than sombre meant I knew I wouldn't break down while being stood up in front of everybody (not that there is the slightest thing wrong with that - it's just I wanted to be sure that after the sweat and nightmares over writing it it would all actually be said!). Things were made easier by reading the speech from a printout too - I just hadn't had time to memorise it but that was never really an option for me anyway. I spoke for around five minutes, was nervous to a healthy degree but managed to read without going to fast - one thing I had taken on board from advice on the web.
After the service I was congratulated by the vicar and various members of my family and I felt pleased (and of course relieved) that I had spoken. Many said they wouldn't have been able to do the same thing and I was asked for copies of the speech by several members of my family. One of my cousins said he liked the part where I spoke about something in particular and I was grateful that my words had actually been listened to! Sounds odd but I assumed that nobody would really take in what I was saying. It made it all worthwhile.
One speech does not make an expert, but here are the things I learned from the experience:
- Don't be afraid to cry while making your speech - it's a funeral after all. There is unlimited goodwill for you in standing up in front of everyone and speaking.
- If you feel you might break down it can be worth having somebody else with a copy of the speech who can take over if necessary. I didn't actually do this but I saw it mentioned a few times.
- Be honest. Don't make people out to be a superhero... unless they were!
- For content think of stories - fond memories.
- Don't be afraid to use humour.
- Think about the person's impact on your life. Was there anything in particular they taught you? Any specific advice they gave?
- You can be as brief as you want but try to keep it less than five minutes or so.
- You'll probably be nervous but try not to speak too quickly - nerves can mean you rush through and nobody has really heard what you've said.
- Funerals can be sombre but remember that they're also a chance to celebrate the person's life.