I want to clear up any confusion, this service is still separated into sermon, eulogy, and hymns, and my getting up here to speak falls into none of those categories. I tried to find a nice, all-encompassing description for this speech, and I think the best term is “panegyric,” which was very popular with the Greeks. They are these speeches that venerate momentous events, tragic deaths, and are meant more as support for a community than for simply praising the deceased. The most famous is perhaps Pericles’ Funeral Oration, which he gave after the first year of the Peloponnesian War to honor the soldiers killed in battle. Centuries later, Abraham Lincoln’s two-minute long Gettysburg Address echoed Pericles’ speech. The two-hour speech that came before the Gettysburg Address mentioned Pericles by name. So, somewhere between two minutes and two hours is the length of this panegyric, and while I certainly wouldn’t consider my speech writing on par with Lincoln’s, I would consider it very close to Pericles’, mostly because I plagiarized it extensively.
Pericles’ speech has been described as the “Eulogy of Athens Itself.” And I’m sure you’re thinking “Well, Joseph, this is all very nice,” but you’re wondering what it has to do with my Imogene DeGeorge.
Well, I think I can say—in absolute sincerity—that my grandmother is Athens, and that this is a momentous occasion, a tragic death. That hers is certainly a loss to mourn.
Pericles started his oration, ironically enough, condemning the practice of speaking at funerals. And, I have to agree with his condemnation. The reputation of an honest man or woman should not be imperiled in the mouth of a single individual. Rather, the whole family should share that honor, should protect that reputation and keep it honest.
Really, it is not my job, nor a priest’s, nor anyone else’s to tell you how to remember a loved one. That is also to say that no one’s memories, no one’s stories are of a higher quality or caliber than those you possess. The truth is that we all share the memory of Imogene DeGeorge, and in truth we all have our speeches to make. And so it is our duty to simply remember her, to share as we wish, and to appreciate the fact that only as a group can we really remember her. Without all of us remembering together, her memory is incomplete.
In his praise of the dead, Pericles reminisces over the rise of Greek civilization, and praises modern-day Athens. He essentially assures the citizens that these soldiers have not fallen in vain—that the city will prevail—and that they have died following a great military tradition—that they are equal to their ancestors in their sacrifice.
This family that extends to distant relatives, lifelong friends, new friends, new acquaintances, even the tenants of her rental properties, this family will not just continue forward, slogging through our daily lives, but we will move forward into each day with purpose, and we have Imogene DeGeorge to thank for that, for imparting her blunt honesty, her generosity, her relentless energy to each of us. That we are all gathered to remember and to honor her is proof that she has moved us, and that we are ready to move on ourselves.
When my grandfather, Vincent DeGeorge, passed away, there was an incredible sense of busy-ness at our house. The phone rang constantly, family was in and out every day, medical equipment had to be picked up. And then, one day, it all stopped. My grandmother and I were alone in the house. The phone was quiet. The coffee maker dripping but my grandmother was nowhere to be found, I discovered her sitting in my grandfather’s old chair, staring at the blank television. I stood next to her, my arm around her, and I felt her body jolt as she sobbed. Unexpectedly as she started to cry, she stopped. She sat herself upright in the chair, and she said, “That’s enough of that. I’ve got stuff to do.”
One thing my grandparents shared—something they certainly learned from their own hardworking parents—is that there’s only so much time for grief. And I wonder if we haven’t learned this ourselves? After that day, I certainly learned it for myself. That you simply have too much stuff to do, that the rest of your life remains ahead. The life provided you by the very person you’ve lost, and what good to waste that life with sadness?
As Pericles neared the end of his oration, he of course talked about the greatness of Athens. Really, he praised it a bit too much. I don’t want to overdo it, but I will paraphrase Pericles.
“In short, I say that as a family we are the school of Imogene and Vincent DeGeorge. I doubt the world can produce a person graced by so many virtues as this family. Imogene DeGeorge, the woman we have celebrated today, is only what the grace and love of her family have made her. From her humble childhood, with its hope of a day of freedom, she was blessed with more than she ever imagined, and so much more than any wealth could bring. And in sudden illness, was cared for greatly, was looked after diligently, and in the end found happiness. Having judged that to be happy means to be free, and to be free means to be brave, she did not shy away from the inevitability of death, but faced it bravely and was freed.”
So died the central figure in many of our lives, and so we become her legacy. We must determine to have a similar dedication to life, to carrying on though it pains us, though we may think it is too difficult, or this occasion too soon, or the circumstances too cruel. Because her strength, her love, and her life were so great, ours will be as well.
Like Pericles, I’d like to remind you that these speeches are difficult to give. While we have this beautiful language that allows nearly unlimited expression, it is limited to what we can comprehend, those feelings that we know, that we can identify. Like many of you, I’m not sure I recognize many of the feelings that come with such an unforeseen death. However, I also recognize that I don’t have to do it alone. While we might not possess the ability to simply snap ourselves out of sadness, we certainly have the capacity to help each other heal, to help each other move on.