Life happens when we least expect it. As the saying goes, there’s a first time for everything. I just didn’t think my first time would be giving a eulogy at my young niece Charlotte’s memorial service.
I am both sad and honored to pay tribute to her. Death will become all of us, so why not be prepared? Chances are, if you’re asked to do a eulogy, you will know the person well, so the words should flow. I hope these tips (and my actual eulogy) will help make the experience a bit easier for you and your loved ones.
- Speak from the heart. It’s really the only thing that counts.
- Share a happy story. Don’t be a Debbie downer; the occasion is somber enough.
- Keep it reasonably brief. Anything over 10 minutes is too long.
- Make it audience-friendly. Have someone you know read it to make sure you are hitting the right notes.
- Practice reading it aloud. Do this more than once, and remember to bring an extra copy.
- Make it memorable. Tell the story of their life.
- Have someone near you just in case. In case you get too emotional to finish, have a backup.
- Speak slowly. It’s not a race; you’re honoring someone’s life.
- Keep tissues and a glass of water handy. Tears may be tonic, but you will need water in case you get choked up.
- Conclude on a high note. Make it feel good for everyone in the audience.
Charlotte Frances Murdoff
There was something about Charlotte! She had us at her smile, and that was just the beginning.
My niece was strong, athletic, creative, and had a very funny personality. She was a beautiful soul with a competitive spirit who loved sports, movies, shopping, playing cards, beach vacations, baking, sewing, and most especially spending time with her friends and siblings: her twin brother Matthew and her older sister Maggie.
Charlotte was blessed with Amazing Grace. I nicknamed her Bernadette for the French Saint because of her enormous courage. On her bedroom walls adorn these affirmations: Grateful; Kindness Is Always In Style; Friends Become Our Chosen Family; Be You; It’s A Good Day To Have A Good Day; Love Never Fails; It’s So Good To Be Home; and perhaps the most telling of all: Not To Spoil The Ending, But Everything Is Going To Be Ok. On September 22nd, Charlotte Frances Murdoff returned home to the Lord as my forever hero and a role model for all to see.
Just shy of her 15th birthday when she was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma. Char endured many surgeries, chemotherapy treatments, and blood transfusions. She spent over 80 nights at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital, and that was just year one! During that period of her life, she was surrounded by light, love, and prayer warriors. After completing her course of treatment and the bell ringing ceremony, a right of passage for cancer patients, Charlotte focused on returning to being a teenager. She completed her freshman year of high school from her hospital bed and from her home couch surrounded by the essentials: her phone, snacks, dog Cody, cozy clothes, blankets, and socks that never matched. This was signature, Char!
Because of my niece’s cancer, I learned a lot about the power of love. A week before her diagnosis, she and Maggie came for a visit, and I noticed that something was off with her. Within hours, I experienced intense leg pain that continued for days. It wasn’t until my sister phoned about her diagnosis that I realized I had ‘pain empathy’ in the same leg as hers. I was stunned. Perhaps that’s when our bond was forged. Sick and children in the same sentence break my heart. Char’s cancer opened my eyes to a world I had not been exposed to. Whatever hardships were placed on families, it paled in comparison to what pint-sized patients had to endure, and I was determined to offer her joy in any way possible.
In looking back at the many nights spent with Char in the hospital, every one of them was a blessing. I was so lucky to get to know the real her, other than at family gatherings or day trips to my sister’s home. If it’s possible to have fun at a hospital, we did. My sister decorated her room for each visit, and we planned something different for each of mine. It usually began with a text asking me to bring her favorite tomato soup from Perry’s in the city or my homemade pesto pasta, which she devoured. She had a huge TV in her room that she never turned on – not once. Instead, we would lie together in her single bed and on my iPad mini-watch scary movies and trashy shows like My 600 Pound Life. Whenever a nurse came in the room, we giggled and concealed all evidence until they left.
To take her mind off treatment, John and I offered to take her on a trip anywhere she desired for her 16th birthday. I was praying for Paris or Rome, but her decision was made: she wanted to come to our place in Sonoma with her girlfriends. I cried tears of joy, and it gave our visits a new focus other than cancer. We left no detail unturned, from planning all menus, including snacks, to her birthday dessert (she had several) and finally where she would take her friends to dinner. I named the party Charlotte’s Lucky Charms: Hearts in Healdsburg. Her friends, namely Lily and Morgan, kept her afloat day in and day out, and her favorite birthday cereal was Lucky Charms. Healdsburg was always a very healing place for Charlotte, even as a young child. I recall with clarity her excitement of going to our vegetable garden for the first time and picking carrots right from the soil, washing off the worms, and then eating them with ranch dip! Luckily, there were many subsequent trips with her friends, with Matthew and his friends, and this past July, we were together for what would have been my mom’s 85th birthday.
Even before her birthday, her dad brought her to London on a business trip, and she ended up hanging out with me for four whole days while he worked. My husband and I had moved there for two months, and within hours of her arrival, she was literally walking the streets like a Rockstar. She took London by storm and when she had only been out of the hospital for six weeks. Her hotel doorman referred to her as ‘Princess Charlotte’ because she was royalty. We shopped until she dropped because she didn’t want to miss a store I had picked out for her. As for food, she ate pasta and scones with clotted cream like they were going out of style. I even took her swimming at a hotel spa, and that afternoon she told me that was her favorite part of the trip, which cracked me up because she could swim anywhere.
Each time Char’s cancer relapsed, she was up to the challenge with even more tenacity. She used her experience to help other kids with cancer by starting a hooded sweatshirt company called ‘thatssewchar’ because she loved to sew: she donated a portion of the funds to cancer research. She was also a Junior Board member for MIB Agents, a pediatric cancer foundation aimed at Making It Better for sick kids. She made things better for us by making her illness easier for us to cope.
Char also brought beauty and innocence to everyone she touched. I truly believe that she was here to teach us about love, as she herself demonstrated through her own bravery and resilience. This David Viscott quote speaks to me: “To love and be loved is to feel the sun from both sides.” The Sun may be the center of our Solar System, but Char was the center of my world, and I loved her with all of my heart.
Sometimes in the winds of change, we find our true direction. It was obvious to me through cancer that Charlotte found hers. She left her mark on all of us, and although 18 years is hardly a lifetime, we cannot always measure life by the number of breaths we take, rather the moments that take our breath away. And with Char, there were so many breathtaking moments.
Thank you, sweet Char, for allowing me to be a part of your amazing journey. You were full of life and created happiness at every turn. I know your spirit will never leave us, and boy, you were blessed with the right parents! May you rest in eternal peace, knowing that the fight will continue at The Sweet-Cordero Laboratory. I honestly felt that our “collective love” would save your life, but God had other plans for you. 1,000 memories flood my mind, and each one involves your infectious smile. I will always love you, Char, to the moon and back.