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Bidding Farewell


By: Michael Aun


I have been blessed with a wealth of “inexperience” in losing loved ones. There were 11 children in my immediate family… and all are still with us. That is being blessed!

God also sanctified me with the gift of tongue. In First Corinthians it says: “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”

While I have been rewarded with limited loss in my immediate family, I have been a firsthand witness to many brave souls who have suffered. One of the bravest and most courageous is my 90-year old mother-in-law, Rita Thiel.

I watched as she recently said goodbye to her husband Paul of some seven plus decades. I watched as she bravely lowered a son and a daughter into a grave. My heart broke when she laid to rest a grandchild. No parent or grandparent should ever have to bid farewell to their progeny.

With the gift of tongue comes the awesome responsibility of helping to say goodbye to those who have lost loved ones. I have done hundreds of eulogies over my life and consider it an honor to speak on behalf of the living, the survivors… those who are left behind.

Funerals are for the living, not the deceased. It is our way of honoring a loved one. When asked to eulogize someone, it is always my hope to speak on behalf of the living, not the deceased. Sometimes I am able to prepare; sometimes… not so much.

In 2007, Steven Stark, one of the men who worked for me took his own life. He was a very successful insurance executive who was a millionaire. Still, that sad Monday morning he ended his life with a gun in his mouth. No one knows why.

As we were walking into the church just behind his widow several days later to lay him to rest, she turned to me and asked “Will you do the Eulogy?” I don’t panic often, but I almost did that day.

In retrospect, two things jumped out at me. First, I am positive it wasn’t the best eulogy I ever delivered. Secondly, thank God for Toastmasters. They teach us to stand on our feet and express our thoughts extemporaneously.

I did not know Steven as well as others I have been called on to eulogize over the years. When my high school football coach J.W. Ingram asked me to do the eulogy at his funeral, I had to ask why me? Why not all the preachers you coached over the years. His answer: “I have outlived them all… they’re all dead. I’m down to motivational speakers and you are the only one I know.”

When I bid farewell to my uncles Arthur and Eli Mack, they too touched my soul as I knew them as long as I did my coach. When I stood to say goodbye to my 40-year old sister-in-law, Julie Thiel, I had to ask God “Why?” She was such a beautiful woman, an iron-man triathlete and a brilliant executive with a Master’s Degree.

The God we worship does not steal a child from her mother or a grandchild from a family before life has barely started. I watched Rita Thiel bury her husband, two of her children and a grandchild. The eulogy was the only contribution I could make, easing her pain.

My only experience with personal family loss was when I eulogized my mother and father. Both were difficult… but also easy. Difficult because of the intimate loss… easy because I was able to express what the hundreds who were present would have said had they been afforded the opportunity.

Michael Aun, CSP®, CPAE Speaker Hall of Fame® is the author of “Bidding Farewell to Loved Ones”