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jjimm
05-07-2007, 02:21 PM
My grandfather died recently and I've been asked to do a reading at his funeral. He wasn't a religious man, and requested a secular ceremony. My father is giving a personal eulogy, and I have been asked to give something more generic. I had initially thought of On Death (http://www.columbia.edu/~gm84/gibran27.html) from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran, but I have a few misgivings - it's a little long, a little deity-oriented, and a little portentous, so I'm looking for an alternative.

Does anyone know of anything that isn't tremendously religious that might be appropriate? It needn't be rabidly atheist - e.g. it may be derived from a religious text - but shouldn't be overtly religious.

Thanks.

Zebra
05-07-2007, 02:28 PM
There is the poem, used in Four Weddings and a Funeral called Funeral Blues by W. H. Auden.

jjimm
05-07-2007, 02:32 PM
Ah yes, that's my wife's favourite poem - we have it framed on the wall.

He lived a very long life, and at 95 and very ill, it was properly time for him to shuffle off this coil, so I don't think the tragedy of Funeral Blues is necessarily appropriate in this case. Thanks though!

hotflungwok
05-07-2007, 02:35 PM
Maybe just something about enjoying lilfe? Does it have to be a poem or a speech? Couldn't you just tell a story about something you did with him, or something he enjoyed, or something he said?

Sampiro
05-07-2007, 02:35 PM
First, sorry for your loss.

Second, here (http://www.vonnegutweb.com/archives/arc_nice.html)'s Kurt Vonnegut (famous atheist) discussing his eulogy for (famous atheist) Isaac Asimov: Do you know what a Humanist is? I am honorary president of the American Humanist Association, having succeeded the late, great science fiction writer Isaac Asimov in that functionless capacity. We Humanists try to behave well without any expectation of rewards or punishments in an afterlife. We serve as best we can the only abstraction with which we have any real familiarity, which is our community.

We had a memorial services for Isaac a few years back, and at one point I said, ''Isaac is up in Heaven now.'' It was the funniest thing I could have said to a group of Humanists. I rolled them in the aisles. It was several minutes before order could be restored. And if I should ever die, God forbid, I hope you will say, ''Kurt is up in Heaven now.'' That’s my favorite joke.

If you don't want to do that, I would say just give a eulogy about things you'll remember, miss, loved, liked, etc., about him, and don't mention religion one way or the other.

OneCentStamp
05-07-2007, 02:38 PM
If you don't want to do that, I would say just give a eulogy about things you'll remember, miss, loved, liked, etc., about him, and don't mention religion one way or the other.
I agree with this; your grandfather's religion, or lack thereof, doesn't need to be the centerpiece of the day. Focus on the other 95% of what made him unique, whatever that may have been.

And, condolences.

jjimm
05-07-2007, 02:41 PM
As I said, my father is doing the "personal" bit. I've been specifically asked to do a generic piece on death.

ETA: ...or other appropriate generic piece.

silenus
05-07-2007, 02:42 PM
There's always Zelazny's prayer (http://sonic.net/~roelofs/humor/zelazny_agnostic.html)... :D

jjimm
05-07-2007, 02:50 PM
First, sorry for your loss.Thanks.

I ain't picking on you, Sampiro, but it seems that my OP isn't conveying what I'm looking for - as in the following fragment is 180 degrees from what I'm looking for:and don't mention religion one way or the other.That's the whole point: I'm asking for help with not mentioning religion while making a general, hopefully thought-provoking reading about dying.

See if I were a Jew or a Christian or a Muslim, they've all got big set texts to choose from. We atheists don't have such a ready store of appropriate verses, and the catchment area is a little larger - I'm looking for some pointers in the right direction. The Auden would have been good if appropriate to the situation, or maybe something from Shakespeare, or some other poet, etc. Something that talks wisely about death but doesn't bang on about heaven or god and so on.

Eureka
05-07-2007, 02:53 PM
"Because I could not stop for Death" by Emily Dickinson (link (http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/stop.html) )

"Death be not Proud" by John Donne (link (http://www.bartleby.com/105/72.html) )

Baron Greenback
05-07-2007, 03:06 PM
Corliss Lamont's A Humanist Funeral Service uses portions of George Santayana's To W.P , the full text of which can be found here. (http://www.poetryfoundation.org/archive/poem.html?id=175272)

Sampiro
05-07-2007, 03:44 PM
Then perhaps a discussion of the history and mystery of the afterlife.

Every culture and every civilization that has ever existed taught of an afterlife. In Shanidar Cave in what is now Iraq a grave was unearthed in which a Neanderthal woman was found buried in the fetal position, surrounded by flowers and grave goods, all suggesting a belief that death was a rebirth, and this from a a human-like creatures so primitive that their name is an insult and popular GEICO commercial, and this from 60,000 years ago. Literacy was born in that same land tens of thousands of years later, and among the first things they wrote about was the afterlife. In Gilgamesh, almost 5000 years ago, the desire to know more of the life after death sends the hero on a great quest. In Egypt in 1500 BC the Book of the Dead created an afterlife of chimeral gods and bureaucracies and rewards. Christ was asked by the Sadducees to teach about the life beyond, and he described a strange place where there is no marriage and no sex, and yet Christianity teaches we shall all be reunited with our wives and husbands there, and the religion spread far among the slaves and underclasses of Rome for its teaching of an Earthly paradise after a hellacious life of suffering. Two thousand years later men died crashing into the World Trade Center for belief that 72 virgins awaited them on the life beyond (and may they all look like Della Reese).

Every culture and every civilization that has ever existed taught of an afterlife, and its citizens took comfort from the teachings. And the only consistency was the inconsistency, for seldom did the teachings agree with those of the other cultures. Seldom did the teachings of a particular sect agree with the teachings of other sects in the same religion. Seldom did the teachings of a single sect agree with the teachings of that same sect when 500 years had passed. The teachings always varied, and they cannot all be true.

Read of all the afterlives that are theorized, that are possible, that are believed in, and ultimately Shakespeare seems most right when in Hamlet he describes death as The undiscover'd country from whose bourn/No traveller returns (Hamlet, Act 3, scene 1, lines 77-78), or Robert Heinlein's Lazarus Long who remarks in his Notebooks There is no conclusive evidence of life after death. But there is not evidence of any sort against it. Soon enough you will know. So why fret about it?

But the words of the ancients are not without merit. For in addition to tales of Bulls from Heaven and dragons and sea monsters and worms devouring the wicked, listen to what else Gilgamesh was told when his story was told before a pyramid was ever a thought and thousands of years before any outside of what is now Jerusalem thought it remotely holy. On his quest Gilgamesh is told this of his desire to know what comes after life or else to live forever:

O Might King, remember now that only gods stay in eternal watch
Humans come then go, that is the way fate decreed on the Tablets of Destiny.
So someday you will depart, but till that distant day
Sing, and dance
Eat your fill of warm cooked food and cool jugs of beer.
Cherish the children your love gave life.
Bathe away life's dirt in warm drawn waters.
Pass the time in joy with your chosen wife."
On the Tablets of Destiny it is decreed
For you to enjoy short pleasures for your short days.

Few tremble at the notions of Tiamat and the other Sumerian gods and goddesses, zigurrats must now pass zoning laws and have steel beams, and the mighty walls of Uruk turned to dust thousands of years ago and the land of Gilgamesh is the world's most famous wartorn nightmare. But these words, put on clay with a reed by a naked scribe using what to us are only scratches almost fifty centuries ago, are as relevant in the world of satellites and clones and nanotechnology as they were in the world of reed boats and clay gods and Inanna's priestesses. Death is a door and we can believe and postulate all we wish about what if anything is on the other side and if it opens from within and that door has been studied for thousands of years in every culture and we can't even agree on what color the hinges are, so let us instead devote our attention to the room we stand in.

Here I'd seg into the preciousness of life, the cherishing of the non supernatural memories and essence fo the beloved. Perhaps close with a particularly poetic notion of the afterlife that you'd like to see filled. For my mother I used the following in a very rough draft of a eulogy I never delievered (or something like it, for I don't have the original handy):

The Creek Indians occupied the lands where my mother lived her entire life, their belief systems dominant for thousands of years before the Christian churches that have dotted the landscape for only the last 200. The Creeks believed that the soul of a dead person would remain on this Earth until all who loved her were dead, for to love is to have a piece of that person's soul. It was, I am sure, a way of encouraging people to stop mourning and get on with their lives. For the sake of my mother I hope the Creeks were wrong, for if they were right- and they certainly had seniority here- my mother will not climb the Milky Way to the paradise of the rivers for many many years, for her sould had many owners. And I know that I will not let go.

and would have closed with a playing of They Live in You (http://www.metrolyrics.com/lyrics/33510/LION_KING/They_Live_In_You) from THE LION KING (which I played instead at her vistitation, sort of- imbeciles started the CD too early).

Anyway, all of the above is off the cuff (save for where I looked up exact quotes) and with no knowledge of your grandfather so feel free to totally disregard, but just a suggestion.

Sampiro
05-07-2007, 03:51 PM
PS- I used this translation (http://www.mythome.org/gilgamesh10.html) of Gilgamesh.

mbh
05-07-2007, 05:33 PM
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Do_not_stand_at_my_grave_and_weep

This is a popular one. Religious people can read into it as much religion as they want. Non-religious people can simply enjoy the imagery.

The Scrivener
05-08-2007, 09:41 AM
Couldn't the eulogist simply relate what sort of person his grandfather was, including some of the family's lore and funny stories?

But if you want something more formal and staid and yet poetic and life-affirming, I'd turn first to the writings of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Somewhere -- perhaps in the tomes of the Stoics, the Hedonists, or the humanist odes and epistles of Horace, or the contemplations of Marcus Aurelius -- is a passage you can use.

I'll do a bit of searching later this evening and post back, how's that?

Surok
05-08-2007, 09:47 AM
My condolences, jjimm.

This may not be atheist enough, but to continue the poetry suggestions:

Uphill ( http://www.bartleby.com/101/783.html) by Christina Rossetti.

stolichnaya
05-08-2007, 09:51 AM
It's always a nice thing for a eulogist to encourage the assembled to appreciate the beauty of their own lives, and the people around them. That needn't be religious in nature, but it is not necessarily atheist, either. We all have our earthly lives in common.

I've never tracked down Bowles' work for the source, but the following always resonated with me. From the Wikipedia page for Brandon Lee (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brandon_Lee):

In an interview just prior to his death, Brandon quoted a passage from Paul Bowles' book The Sheltering Sky that he had chosen for his wedding invitations; it is now inscribed on his tombstone:

"Because we do not know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. And yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, an afternoon that is so deeply a part of your being that you cannot conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four, or five times more? Perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless..."

The Interview can be seen on VHS and DVD of the The Crow.

Sampiro
05-08-2007, 10:31 AM
Hand puppets.... just sayin'.

Unauthorized Cinnamon
05-08-2007, 10:42 AM
I heard this on NPR, and loved it so much, I ordered the transcript, so it could be used at my funeral (or non-funeral remembrance gathering, if my wishes reign).

You want a physicist to speak at your funeral. You want the physicist to talk to your grieving family about the conservation of energy, so they will understand that your energy has not died. You want the physicist to remind your sobbing mother about the first law of thermodynamics; that no energy gets created in the universe, and none is destroyed. You want your mother to know that all your energy, every vibration, every Btu of heat, every wave of every particle that was her beloved child remains with her in this world. You want the physicist to tell your weeping father that amid energies of the cosmos, you gave as good as you got.

And at one point you'd hope that the physicist would step down from the pulpit and walk to your brokenhearted spouse there in the pew and tell him that all the photons that ever bounced off your face, all the particles whose paths were interrupted by your smile, by the touch of your hair, hundreds of trillions of particles, have raced off like children, their ways forever changed by you. And as your widow rocks in the arms of a loving family, may the physicist let her know that all the photons that bounced from you were gathered in the particle detectors that are her eyes, that those photons created within her constellations of electromagnetically charged neurons whose energy will go on forever.

And the physicist will remind the congregation of how much of all our energy is given off as heat. There may be a few fanning themselves with their programs as he says it. And he will tell them that the warmth that flowed through you in life is still here, still part of all that we are, even as we who mourn continue the heat of our own lives.

And you'll want the physicist to explain to those who loved you that they need not have faith; indeed, they should not have faith. Let them know that they can measure, that scientists have measured precisely the conservation of energy and found it accurate, verifiable and consistent across space and time. You can hope your family will examine the evidence and satisfy themselves that the science is sound and that they'll be comforted to know your energy's still around. According to the law of the conservation of energy, not a bit of you is gone; you're just less orderly. Amen.

- Aaron Freeman

Sampiro
05-08-2007, 02:45 PM
Perhaps not appropriate for the funeral of a 95 year old man, but I'll mention it just because I like it: a scene from ZORBA THE GREEK.

If you've never seen the movie: Zorba (Anthony Quinn) has gone from being morose to a near frantic dancing, Greek folk and dirvish in one, finally collapsing exhausted and smiling onto the beach. His unnamed Boss has watched this, concerned for the old peasant's sanity and health, and when Zorba gets his wind back he speaks for the first time of a personal tragedy (Boss knows almost nothing of Zorba's life).

ZORBA: When my little boy Dimitri died, everybody was crying. Me... I got up and I danced. They said, 'Zorba is mad'. But... no. It was the dancing. Only the dancing stopped the pain. Boss, you are a learned man...Why do the young die? Why does anybody die? Tell me?

BOSS: I don't know.

ZORBA: Then what's the use of all your damn books? If they don't tell you that, what the hell do they tell you?

BOSS (reflectively): They tell me about the agony of men who can't answer questions like yours.

ZORBA: I spit on their agony.

Sir Doris
05-08-2007, 04:35 PM
This might perhaps be appropriate to be read by a grandson. I haven't been able to find it anywhere on line, so I'll reproduce it below with the appropriate reference (in the book no copyright holder is given) It's by Lorna Wood and published in More Poetry Please. Everyman J M Dent, London, 1988

To A Descendant

I shall not be an importunate, nagging ghost
Sighing for unsaid prayers; or a family spectre
Advertising that someone is due to join me ...
Nor one that has to be exorcised by the Rector.

I shall not be the commercial type of ghost,
Pointing to boxes of gold under the floor
And I certainly don't intend to rattle chains
Or carry my head ... (such a gruesome type of chore!)

I shall not cause draughts, be noisy, or spoil your 'let'–
In fact, to be brief, I shall not materialise.
But I shall be glad if anyone ever sees me
In your face or your walk or the glance of your laughing eyes

jjimm
05-08-2007, 04:47 PM
Sir Doris, that last line completely tripped me up (as I believe it was meant to). Lovely poem. So subtle. I'm not sure if I could get through the last two lines without breaking down. But it's a serious contender. Thank you.

Sir Doris
05-08-2007, 04:59 PM
It choked me when I first read it, JJimm, and that was a few years after my Dad died. It's made me feel a bit sad now, but in a good way.

PastAllReason
05-08-2007, 07:29 PM
Dylan Thomas wrote poems for his atheist father as he was dying and after his death. The most famous of course is Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night (http://www.bigeye.com/donotgo.htm) which may be appropriate. He also wrote Elegy and Lie Still, Sleep Becalmed. One of those may be what you're looking for as well.

For a different kind of poem, if you're looking for something short and simple, Robert Louis Stevenson's Requiem may be suitable. This (http://www.bartleby.com/188/521.html) is the poem that ends with

"Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill."

illoe
05-09-2007, 01:56 AM
There are sections of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass that are fitting tribute to death -- and life. I'm thinking of section 14:6 in particular, which begins with a child asking "what is the grass?" and Whitman thinking it the "lovely uncut hair of graves," continuing:

What do you think has become of the young and old men? 115
And what do you think has become of the women and children?

They are alive and well somewhere;
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death;
And if ever there was, it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it,
And ceas’d the moment life appear’d. 120

All goes onward and outward—nothing collapses;
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.

What's That Smell?
05-09-2007, 02:20 AM
Dirge Without Music
By Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892 – 1950)

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains, but the best is lost.

The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,
They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

(1928)

Captain Carrot
05-09-2007, 06:11 AM
He lived a very long life, and at 95 and very ill, it was properly time for him to shuffle off this coil, so I don't think the tragedy of Funeral Blues is necessarily appropriate in this case. Thanks though!
I'd think that even though it was his time, it still sucked that he died. That said, I like virtually all of the suggestions in this thread.

glee
05-09-2007, 05:04 PM
Both my parents had humanist funerals, and asked that they be 'celebrations of life'.

In each case I gave a short summary of their life, but then other family members told stories and reminiscences from their own perspective. (We also played music.)
This went very well and the mourners said how fitting it was.

Perhaps your father would let you give a grandson's view of the departed.

Kalhoun
05-09-2007, 05:20 PM
Dirge Without Music
By Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892 – 1950)

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains, but the best is lost.

The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,
They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

(1928)
That's beautiful. Just beautiful. I think I'll copy this to my hard drive and break it out when the time comes.

Zerc
05-10-2007, 05:18 AM
Authorized Cinnamon, I really liked your post. It shows that even if there is no afterlife, we have still made a difference that continues past our death. Do you have any more information on where to get the transcript?

Shirley Ujest
05-10-2007, 06:06 AM
My condolences on your loss.


May I suggest a little Ralph Waldo (http://www.transcendentalists.com/success.htm) Emerson. (or someone else.)


Keeping things secular, upbeat and stuff like that there.

Kalhoun
05-10-2007, 06:29 AM
My condolences on your loss.


May I suggest a little Ralph Waldo (http://www.transcendentalists.com/success.htm) Emerson. (or someone else.)


Keeping things secular, upbeat and stuff like that there.
I like this one, too. I added it to my list.

Shirley Ujest
05-10-2007, 06:43 AM
You could just blare: There's No Business Like Show Business by Ethel Merman.


(I think I might want that at my big send off.)

jjimm
05-10-2007, 02:36 PM
Sir Doris, I used your poem. It was very well received as extremely appropriate by the relatives there. I preambled it with the manner in which his life was surrounded by jokes and good humour, with examples, and then my belief that due to this wry look at the world, he would have liked the sentiment of the poem. Thank you so much.

The humanist minister afterwards said she had the poem on file herself for years, but had not yet had the courage to use it due to being unable to gauge the sense of humour of the bereaved and the deceased.

To all the others who contributed, thank you very much indeed for your contributions. I hope there's some useful stuff here that may help someone else in the same position.

nevermore
05-10-2007, 03:34 PM
Dirge Without Music
By Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892 – 1950)

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains, but the best is lost.

The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,
They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

(1928)

This just really strikes a chord with me. I have conflicted feelings about death: I do think it's quite wonderful and amazing that every bit of matter and energy composing our bodies goes on to contribute to life in some other way. However, it doesn't change the fact that losing someone you love dearly forever is horribly sad.

"More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world."
I don't think I shall ever forget that.

cerberus
05-10-2007, 09:01 PM
Chuang Tzu (http://www.religiousworlds.com/taoism/friend.html)

Hey, Sung Hu!
Where'd you go?
You have gone
Where you were before.
And we are here--
Damn it! We are here!

Kalhoun
05-10-2007, 09:07 PM
"More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world."
I don't think I shall ever forget that.
It really is quite possibly the most perfectly written expression of love.

Zebra
05-10-2007, 11:52 PM
Glad to hear things worked out jjimm.

Shirley Ujest
05-11-2007, 10:53 AM
I think you made a lovely choice.

Sir Doris
05-12-2007, 07:14 AM
I'm glad to hear it went well, jjimm, and I'm glad to have been able to help.