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Psychological Exercises

Write Your Own Eulogy
 A Psychological Exercise

James Neill
Last updated:
03 Oct 2004


About the Write Your Own Eulogy Exercise

Applications of this Tutorial

Cautions

Outline - Write Your Own Eulogy

Recommended Links
 

About the Write Your Own Eulogy Exercise

This exercise is one of the most challenging and powerful emotional activities I know, so be careful about the group and situation in which you choose to use it. My suggestion is that it will tend to work better in the middle or latter stages of a program.  For a short session, allow approx. 20 minutes. For a longer session, perhaps involving sharing eulogies, allow approx. 1 hour.

As a lead-up or extension, this exercise could be combined with exploring one's mortality via online activities such as www.deathclock.com, Life Expectancy Calculator, Life Map, and mylastemail.com.

This nature of this exercise and the way it is presented can lead to some participants feeling 'too confronted'. In these situations I've taken the pressure off everyone writing a eulogy and instead had a group discussion about whether or not people ever think about dying, if not why not, and if they do, what do they think about the reality that one day, today will be the last day of their life!
 

Applications of the Write Your Own Eulogy Exercise

This exercise is designed for young adults, but could be adapted for children, adolescents and older adults.

Examples of possible applications of the Write Your Own Eulogy are:

  • for self-exploration

  • psychology classes (e.g., in looking at death and dying, existential psychology, etc.)

  • personal development courses

  • creative writing

I also use the exercise as part of a 1 day "Mystery Adventure" consisting of novel experiential activities - one of the voluntary emotional activities during the day is for the small groups (3 or 4) to visit either a church, a graveyard, or a meditation room, to write their own eulogy and to share it with the rest of their group.  The feedback I got seemed to indicate that the eulogy experiences in this  setting were more powerful.
 

Cautions

This is an activity that one must consider carefully with groups where death and grief are likely significant issues. Facilitators must be ready to address and deal with grief and loss reactions (as well as post traumatic stress responses).

Inviting a person to envisage the possibility of his/her death, particularly in Western culture, is a surprisingly challenging topic.  Be prepared for a wide variety of reactions, many if not of all of which could be viewed as defence mechanisms for dealing with unsolved "death anxiety" or "existential angst".  Common reactions I've found include: laughter and making a joke of the exercise, passive refusal, active refusal, questioning the value of the exercise, and complaining that its too hard.  Unless one has a legitimate therapeutic intention, I tend to avoid trying to engage these reactions.  I tend to offer gentle, general suggestions about why it might be an interesting exercise.  I also explain that it may be illustrating some validity of the existential perspective that we do not find it easier to confront our mortality.  At the very least, I find the exercise provokes interesting conversation about existentialism and its relation to psychology and themselves, even if not many eulogies are written.

One need also be aware that for individuals who have encountered traumatic experiences of death, particularly recent unsolved deaths, the exercise may provoke quite raw reactions.  So, in general, the exercise should probably be used later in a sequence rather than earlier, to help increase availability of a sense of  safety, support and trust in engaging in potentially confronting ideas.

Outline - Write Your Own Eulogy

  1. Ask participants to imagine that they died today and for each of them to write a eulogy that they would like to have read out at their own funeral.

  2. Give participants a chance to go and sit alone and write their eulogy.

  3. [optional] You may like to have your class discuss what a eulogy is or you could share with them what you think a eulogy is or you could read an example of eulogy out to them. Or just stay simple and let them make of the activity whatever they will.

  4. When the group comes back together you could discuss what it was like to think and write about their life and death.

  5. [optional] Invite each person to share his/her eulogy with the rest of the class (not compulsory).

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