Writing Your Own Eulogy

Barry Rabkin
10 min readJan 19, 2020

My Beloit College Professor Jerry Gustafson first got me interested in startups and dramatically changed the trajectory of my life for the better. Knowing that we were more likely to achieve our life goals if we knew what they were, Professor Gustafson assigned our class the weighty task of writing our desired obituaries. It was both the most challenging and most valuable assignment of my academic life.

A few years ago, my Uncle Tom died suddenly. The religious officiant had to guess what final messages our dearly departed wanted to share with the funeral attendees. It made me wonder, “If these gems of wisdom and adoration are important, why do we keep them secret until after we are gone? We never know when we will get hit by a literal or proverbial bus. Why not tell our loved ones what we want them to know when we are still here to tell them ourselves?” So I came home from the ceremony and drafted my eulogy.

Lest I needlessly worry my friends and family, this is neither a cry for help nor a terminal illness announcement. I am at my happiest and healthiest. My Grandma Irma recently passed away at the enviable age of 97, which reminded me that I did not want to wait and keep this unsaid. I share it now in honor of her well-lived life.

While it may initially seem dark to acknowledge our mortality, the tradition of ethical wills and legacy letters is thousands of years old. As Gabor Mate said, “If we can face death then we can face life.” Professor Gustafson and Uncle Tom showed the wisdom of acknowledging our story’s end, not to die better deaths, but to live better lives.

I hope reading this inspires you to envision your best life and to share your love and lessons generously each day of the journey.

My Eulogy — The Love Eternal

Hello everyone, thank you so much for coming. There are 5 questions about the departed that I would hope to be answered at any funeral:

#1 — Were they satisfied with the life they led?

#2 — Were they ready to go?

#3 — How did they feel about me?

#4 — Is there any final advice they would like to share?

#5 — What should I do now?

#1 — Were they satisfied with the life they led?

I feel like I have gotten to live a dozen different people’s lifetimes. Thanks to your inspiration and support, I have had the great fortune to do everything I hoped to personally and professionally. I have had the extraordinary privilege of being husband, father, son, nephew, cousin, brother, uncle, family, and friend to you, my favorite people in the world.

All my dreams came true. You were, are, and will always be, the greatest blessings of my life, and I want you to know how profoundly grateful I am for the love and laughter that we shared.

#2 — Were they ready to go?

Death is not just death. Death is change. And change is life. Life’s greatest blessing and curse is its impermanence. It is the cancer and the cure to everything. No matter how bad or good life gets, change is guaranteed. You can shake your balled-up fist at every raindrop that pours from the thundering clouds of change, or you can accept change as life itself and dance in the rain.

None of us are here to stay, so the question is often asked, “What is the point of life, knowing that we must all one day die?” I would rephrase that as, “What is the purpose of eating a hot fudge ice cream sundae knowing that after you eat it, it will be gone?”

Just because it is not endless does not make it any less enjoyable. Emily Dickinson said, “That it will never come again is what makes life so sweet.” Its impermanence encourages us to enjoy it while we can and to fully experience every moment of it. If you are in this room, please know that you have made my life a delicious hot fudge sundae indeed.

We are all spirits in transit. From the moment of birth, we are all going to die, just as certainly as if we had jumped out of a plane without a parachute. Knowing this, some people will rage and despair the whole way down. What a terrible waste of what could be an exhilarating adventure.

Instead let’s smile and skydive as we enjoy the once-in-a-lifetime journey we have been gifted, as we soar through the clouds. Confidence comes from having strong enough wings to choose our own path, regardless of which way the winds of fate blow us. Trust your wings.

As Holocaust freedom fighter Abba Kovner said, “If we act cowardly, we die; if we act courageously, we die. So we might as well act courageously.” Whether in a grim march or a roaring parade, all paths eventually lead to the cemetery. We do not get to choose how we die, but we do get to choose how we live. So choose joy.

Every new morning has been a gift. I would prefer more days in my life, to watch you and yours flourish and grow. But know that I could not possibly have had more life or more love in my days. Joseph Campbell said, “The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.” I believe there are just as many right ways to live as there are people on the planet and I could not have had a life that suited me better or was more my own.

In Og Mandino’s words, “I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness because it shows me the stars.” Any dark times I experienced gave me the chance to see and fully appreciate you, the guiding lights on my journey.

A good death is a success to be aspired to, not a failure to be feared. I passed without fear, without regret, and without unfulfilled dreams. Life and death are not separate, they are unified, just as every beautiful song must have its final triumphant notes. I had a good birth, a fine death, and most importantly, a thrilling time in between, thanks entirely to you.

#3 — How did they feel about me?

The world is a better place because of you. One of the best parts of my life was being part of yours. If we disagreed about anything, I can finally admit the truth. You were right all along.

#4 — Is there any final advice they would like to share?

Live on purpose. We will all have pain in our lives, but the type of pain is ours to choose. We can choose the constructive pains and rewards of growth or suffer the destructive pain of atrophy. We can get old without growing or we can grow without growing old.

Be generous. Being stingy costs you too much. Being selfish leaves you with too little. Wealth is in your heart and your head, not your bank account. Do not mistake financial success with life success. Many of the richest people I have known were also the most miserable. I do not care if our children or grandchildren have more money than their parents. I do wish them even more happiness.

Success is a verb, not a noun. It is how you do what you do, not something you have, or somewhere you arrive. Money is a resource, it is not the resource. Wealth is abundance and poverty is scarcity. A wealth of money is nothing if it comes with a poverty of health or happiness. The house, car, career, and investment portfolio are not life’s treasures. Too many lives have been wasted, spent increasingly miserable, in increasingly magnificent circumstances. Financial success is only the treasure chest to protect and provide for life’s true wealth.

The currency of success is relationships, love, and laughter, not dollars. Success is about the right direction, not the right destination. We can walk with our souls, minds, and feet in alignment, moving in the right direction with the right people every single day. The journey is the goal. As the Buddha said, “There is no path to happiness — happiness is the path.”

#5 — What should I do now?

The night sky burns bright, not only with the stars that are with us, but the light left by the ones who are gone. Many of the stars we see burned out long ago. But since they are millions of miles away, their glow still reaches us to light our way. The light we shine on the world is the same. Our light outlasts us and shines brightly long after we are gone. The past lights the way into the future.

Every person is a friend. Every day is a celebration. The happiest do not have the best of everything, they make the best of everything. While today could be a sad day, I know you will make it a spectacular one, both for your sake and for mine.

May my memory be a blessing. Know that I love and miss you too. I hope the pain of loss evolves quickly from grieving to gratitude. Grief is just love with nowhere to go. Fortunately, you are surrounded by wonderful people deserving of love. You are all brilliant, beautiful, and bold.

The best way to lift your own spirits is to lift up others. The best way to be charming is to be charmed. The best way to be interesting is to be interested. After this ceremony, please come together as one. Remember the smiles we have shared, recount a few of our happiest memories together, and leave with more friends than you came with.

Love is larger than life and a little thing like death cannot possibly change the way I feel about you. I believe in immortality, in spirit if not in body. Just as there is death in life, there is also life in death. Every year since she passed, I have honored my dearly departed Great Aunt Sondra’s birthday by dressing with a little more flair, enjoying a fond memory of her kindness, and taking a moment to slow down and deeply appreciate the beauty that surrounds us. I did not lose her, I take her with me everywhere I go. I live through her and she lives through me. Those we love don’t go away, they walk beside us every day. As long as I live in your memories, then the best of me is still very much alive. If you remember me, it doesn’t matter if everyone else forgets. When you miss me, think of our happy times together and there I will be. Our stories are one.

Our lives are a glorious collision between all the love and lessons given to us and all those who we pass those gifts on to. We are links in a chain of compassion, creativity, and courage, that began long before us and will continue long after us. This chain transcends time and place, individual and group, life and death. This chain is Love Eternal.

Our link in that chain grants us the honor and responsibility of unifying the past, present, and future as one. My love is my parent’s love, and my grandparents' love, and their parents before them, passed down to me. My love is my friend’s love and my wife’s love, and my children’s love, forever and always.

To our children, you are the world’s gift to us and our gift to the world. Making you made us and raising you raised us. When we held you, we also held the adults you would someday become. We did not just talk to you but through you, knowing that our words would echo in your hearts and someday be the words that you would speak to your own children. We wish you marriages as happy as your parents and children as wonderful as ours. It is said that Mozart never died, he simply became music. Maya Angelou never died, she simply became poetry. Like other brilliant creators, we never died, we simply became you. We did not create sculptures, but sculptors. Not masterpieces, but masters. We know you will craft lives that are better than anything that we could ever choose for you. I love you, even more, today than yesterday, but not as much tomorrow.

T.S. Eliot said, “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring, will be to arrive where we started, and know the place for the first time.” Death is not disconnecting from the present; it is reconnecting to the Love Eternal, whether it be humanity, family, God, or simply the good earth from which we came.

We are born of magic and return to magic. To grow from wave to ocean, from something to everything, is a gift. Transitioning out of the limits of the body is nothing to mourn. I have not gone away. I have gone home. I have not fallen asleep. I have awakened to eternity. In Lao Tzu’s words, “The caterpillar’s end is the butterfly’s beginning.” I have gladly traded my earthly caterpillar legs for butterfly wings. When you join your ancestors in the hall of legends, I will have your wings and chilled champagne waiting for a toast. But there is no hurry. There is not enough time to rush. Take it slow and savor every precious moment. It is the pauses between the notes that make music so beautiful. I am not getting any older. Better late than never, dying has finally taught me patience.

While my story has reached its conclusion, you have a magnum opus of adventures ahead, and I could not bear to darken its pages. Jews light menorah candles for the eight nights of Hanukkah. Each candle is lit from a first candle called the shamash. While the shamash does not burn brighter or longer than any of the other candles, it enjoys the unique privilege of kindling the fires of others. I was not a lamp, leaving behind an empty black room when turned off. If I lived my life the way I intended, I was a shamash bouncing from candle to big beautiful candle, helping to fuel your brilliant flames.

We do not have deaths to mourn, we have well-lived lives to celebrate. The best monument I could hope for would not be a stone statue or a cold mausoleum, but the warm smile on your face at the thought of our happiest times. Bodies die, but love lasts.

Every night at bedtime we told our children, “Sleep is not the end of the day, it is the beginning of tomorrow.” It is all one endless story. The new chapter has just begun and the best is yet to come.

- Barry Michael Rabkin

From August 6th, 1984 to Love Eternal



Barry Rabkin

I love my family, friends, city, and startups. Learn more @ BarryRabkin.com