my grandfather's funeral speech

m. werneburg, 1999

This is the speech I wrote for my grandfather's funeral. Writing a funeral speech is difficult work, and while I don't wish it on anyone I'm sharing this for those with that chore before them.

I gave this on the day before my 28th birthday, during the kind of snowstorm that keeps all but funeral-goers off the road. On the way there, my (then live-in) girlfriend lost control of the car. Only half an hour before the service was due to start, the car was nose-first in a ditch. We were still 30 kilometers from town. Needless to say, we arrived late, rattled, and apologetic.

Knowing that I might be reading this speech through tears, I printed the thing in large type. But in the end, it wasn't necessary. Perhaps our little car crash sharpened my focus, because I was not overcome as the other speakers were.

I'm not sure that these were the things I wanted to say, or that they'd be the things I'd say tomorrow if I had to. But that's the hell of funeral speeches, you can't plan them ahead of time, or write them after you've gotten used to the deceased's passing....

By posting this, I hope it might help someone in some way.

For those who don't know me, my name is Michael Werneburg. I want to say a few words in memory of my grandfather.

Kenneth McKenzie Johnston lived a remarkable life, one that inspired me greatly. His adventurous attitude, his broad range of interests, and his happy demeanor made him a wonderful person to know. He was patient, and generous with his time and affection.

He always took an interest in the people he met: there were few people he wouldn't engage at any time or place. I introduced him to many of my friends over the years, and they always told me how interesting he'd been.

My grandfather pursued his many endeavors diligently, and always rose to meet a challenge. I always felt that he expected the same of me, too.

He was philosophical in his approach to life. He especially had a great perspective when it came to the little things, never displaying anger or impatience. Instead, he showed a great dignity and humor.

He extended this philosophy no matter what obstacle he faced. I have always admired this trait as it doesn't seem to have been handed down.

The strength of his character showed even in criticism. With a few wry words, my grandfather could be far more damning than most people could achieve with any strong language.

I'll miss the news of his strange adventures, and I'll miss the stories from the seven continents he visited; I'll miss the tales of evil two-year-old grandchildren; about his old friends; and his 'child bride'. Stories he told again and again, in the same exacting detail with every telling.

I'll miss his perspective and his gentle humor. I'll miss the surprising depth and scope of his knowledge. I'll miss the warmth he extended to everyone he met.

I will miss my grandfather dearly. But I will treasure his memory forever.

Reading it, years later, I see that it misses the mark a bit. But then, there was no need to mention things like the man's constant criticism or his refusal to stop driving though he'd begun to drift off behind the wheel.

And there was one item that I really should have mentioned though it might have been difficult for the audience. As a doctor, my grandfather spent his career pushing his patients to come clean with their loved ones whenever he had to tell those patients that they were at the end of their life. But my grandfather never did this with us, he just kept it to himself for at least two years, puttering around the house labeling items according to whom he intended to leave them following his death.

I mention this now because it's been more than a decade since I gave this speech, and it's only now that I realize that I had a chance to send an important message to my grandfather's colleagues. This was the only chance I'd ever have in my life to speak before a room full of doctors about an important matter.

But I guess that's expecting too much for a young man giving his first funeral speech. I'll leave it to anyone who finds this page to consider the matter if they're crafting a speech of their own.

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rand()m quote

(In which I leave the final word to someone else.)

Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.

-Ernest Hemingway

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