What Rick Rios always will remember about Drushaun Humphrey isn't that he was a great football player, but that he was great around kids.
Like the time when, after helping beat a football rival for the first time in decades, Mr. Humphrey playfully ruffled the hair of Mr. Rios' four-year-old boy even though the television cameras were all focused on him, the star of the game.
That's the kind of memory that Mr. Rios shared with more than 2,000 people who crammed into a south Toledo church for the Rogers High School football star's funeral in 2001 after he suffered cardiac arrest while playing basketball with friends. It wasn't easy to deliver a eulogy, but it was important for Mr. Rios, the school's head football coach.
"You just want to convey what that person meant to you," he said. "You want to give people who were there who didn't know him as well, give them an opportunity to feel what he was like. You basically just speak your heart."
Mr. Rios isn't alone. Once considered almost exclusively within the purview of clergy, more everyday folk are standing up and giving eulogies for their families and friends in addition to or in place of clergy.
"In talking with colleagues across the country, I think it's increasing, obviously," said Bob Vandenbergh, past president of the National Funeral Directors Association and a practicing funeral director northeast of Detroit.
Just look at some of the limitations that some churches have put on them - narrowing how many people may speak or for how long or when, he said.
Overall, family or friends probably give a eulogy more than 45 percent of the time, though not always during the funeral ceremony itself, he said.
You've heard some of the famous ones: Earl Charles Spencer talking about his sister, Princess Diana. Madonna eulogizing Versace. President Reagan remembering the Challenger astronauts to a mournful nation.
In a way, these eulogies for celebrities may have paved the way for the rest of the public, suggests Cyrus M. Copeland, editor of Farewell, Godspeed: The Greatest Eulogies of Our Time (Harmony Books, 2003).
"Their eulogies were the first to be secularized," he said. "We see Cher on television eulogizing Sonny Bono and we think, 'Oh, I can do that.'"
There are other factors too - the empowerment of the baby boomer generation, a trending away from formality in American culture, and even the transience of modern people.
"For that reason we're not as well known to our clergy," Mr. Copeland said. "We move much more frequently than our parents."
The Rev. Lee Powell, senior pastor at CedarCreek Church in Perrysburg Township, said he encourages congregants to give eulogies for loved ones because they knew them best.
"I say that a family member can do a eulogy. It's the remembrance of the person," he said. "My role is to bring hope to a situation where people feel helpless, bring some relief to the grief with Scripture."
While there may be concerns about the number of people giving eulogies or the amount of time taken up, it can really help in the grieving process, said the Rev. Charles E. Singler, director of worship for the Catholic Diocese of Toledo.
"By offering words of reflection, that helps them to articulate further in an open forum the pain and the loss of the experience," he said.
For those who do decide to deliver a eulogy, help is out there - sometimes for a price. Just check out any of a number of Web sites that provide guidelines, samples, and in some cases the whole eulogy.
Ryan Ringold, of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., started www.eulogyspeeches.com in March to fill a niche and has seen business increase from month to month. For $17, clients are able to download a book to help them.
"It's not only a guide on how to write your own eulogy, but there are also several other samples - for brothers, fathers, grandparents," he said. Often times, he continued, they will use 90 percent of the template, changing the names and inserting personal stories.
Some local clergy said it's still extremely uncommon for congregants to ask to eulogize a loved one. After 34 years of pastoring, the Rev. Otis Gordon, of Warren AME Church, has only had one person ask to give a eulogy.
"Usually the person is experiencing so much grief that they do not want to," he said.
In that one case, though, a man who lost his wife after more than 25 years of marriage wanted to share with his colleagues and family a little about their lives together.
"He said he knew her better than anyone," he said. "He did an excellent job."
Contact Ryan E. Smith at:
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