How to write a meaningful piece with a quick deadline.

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By Kelly Beischel PhD, RN, CNE

I volunteered.

I wanted to do it.

But I was also overwhelmed by it.

What was “it”?

My dad passed away recently and I raised my hand when the pastor asked, “Who would like to give the eulogy?”Dad and Kelly

I had only four days to write  the most important piece I had ever written.

 

It was important that I got it right.

And I didn’t have much time. 

Writing Strategies for that Time You Need to Get it Right (and be Fast About It)

  1. Sit and quietly reflect. Allow your thoughts to flow. 
  2. Begin listing or mindmapping your thoughts as they come. Brainstorming early gives your thoughts time to percolate. You will continue to add to this list as more ideas come to mind. 
  3. You will simply be recording ideas that you don’t want to lose. The sentences may be fragmented ideas. But refrain from editing this brainstormed list until you are ready to write. 
  4. Keep a note-taking device handy. The note-taking device can be in the form of a journal, index cards, or even voice notes. Using the notes app on your smartphone is easy because, well, who doesn’t have their phone adhered to their hip at all times? The idea is to be prepared for ideas to pop up at the most inopportune times (driving and showering come to mind here). 
  5. Tune into what others are saying about the topic or person. What anecdotes are people sharing? What memories do they have of the person or of the subject about which you will be writing? Be sure to take notes! You will not remember what they shared. 
  6. Look through photos, quotes, and memorabilia for ideas. Exploring the art of a person’s life awakens the creative side of your brain. 
  7. I find it easier to write when I am passionate about what I am writing. If the topic is difficult to get excited about, determine why the topic is important. Ask yourself, “So what?” “Why does this matter?” “Who does this effect?”
  8. Gather all the notes and lists in one central place.
  9. Examine your notes for themes. List your thoughts beneath the themes you created.
  10. Tie your topics and stories together with transitions that help the readers/listeners connect to what you have written. Good transitions create an easier path to follow.
  11. End on a positive note or an interesting perspective.

The opportunity to write and present my dad’s eulogy was both a privilege and a gift. I was honored that my brother and sister trusted me to write the eulogy, to give our dad the recognition that he deserved. And writing the eulogy was a gift in that it afforded me time to reflect and bring order to my thoughts, an important step in the grieving process.

Writing an important piece with a rapid deadline is doable. In truth, the fast deadline is helpful.

It prevents perfectionism and resistance from taking you hostage and wreaking havoc on your writing.

To honor his memory, I offer the eulogy I wrote for my dad. 

My beautiful picture

Eulogy for Jack Finn

Good morning.

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Kelly, dad’s youngest child.

I’m his mouthy one, as dad liked to say, so it is only fitting that I stand before you today to deliver his eulogy.  I am much like my dad in that he lived his life out loud as well as loved out loud. And without apology.

First, I want to give thanks and praise to mom for her exemplary caregiving. She was adamant that dad would stay in his home. And she cared for him day and night. Mom, I don’t think you truly understand the power that your role modeling has had on your children and grandchildren. I also thank you for demonstrating what marriage vows truly look like when lived out.

Thank you, mom, for giving us Wednesday nights with dad. While trying at times, I will always cherish the time I spent with dad on those Bingo nights. I will cherish listening to music and laughing about things like the time he taught me to dance. And I wouldn’t let him lead. 

Second, Erin, John and I would like to thank our spouses for their support, their strength, and their love. We have leaned on you over the past two years. And you’ve never buckled. You didn’t begrudge us our time to help mom or dad. In fact, you dug in to help. Nor did you stop listening to us as we poured out our heartache. We love you for that and will always be grateful.

Third, John, Erin and I would like to thank our children as well as our nieces and nephews. There wasn’t a time that Nana nor we requested help that you didn’t jump in to help. In fact, I don’t think there was a Bingo night uncovered. That’s pretty amazing. Know that it was harder for Nana to accept help than it was for you to offer it.

Lastly, thank you all for coming to pay tribute to Jack Finn, a proud man, whose love for mom and his family superseded everything else in his life.

In the event you don’t know this, Dad died while listening to Frank Sinatra’s song The Way You Look Tonight:

I will refrain from singing to you but here are the lyrics:

Someday, when I’m awfully low
When the world is cold
I will feel a glow just thinking of you
And the way you look tonight

Yes, you’re lovely, with your smile so warm
And your cheeks so soft
There is nothing for me but to love you
And the way you look tonight

With each word your tenderness grows
Tearin’ my fear apart
And that laugh..wrinkles your nose
Touches my foolish heart

Lovely … Never, never change
Keep that breathless charm
Won’t you please arrange it? ‘Cause I love you
Just the way you look tonight

This song was so befitting!

Dad Lived Life Out Loud

He was a force to be reckoned with – whether it was on the ball field or in the backyard. Dad was all in!

He lived his life out loud – good and bad.

I remember Dad calling the parents of the boys he coached, explaining his plan to take them to City. To do this, he said, “you have to be all in.” You can’t take a family vacation until the season is over. And we’re starting practice in March. And they complied so that they could be on Jack Finn’s team. Imagine giving parents that ultimatum today. I also remember the anticipation of the first practice. It felt like the start of spring training at our house.

Dad lived out loud for holidays as well. The fact that we celebrate all holidays with a big party can be directly traced back to dad. Whether at One Lytle for the fireworks or in our backyard on Montoro. Though preparing for those holidays was no fun – I have distinct memories of dad whacking the bushes with the unwieldy trimmers and then graduating to the electric hedge trimmer and we kids scrambling around after him picking up the trimmings. I can still smell the food Mom was cooking and the tea she was brewing.

While the prep work wasn’t fun, the backyard sporting events, the laughter, the stories, and the food were fantastic. Dad’s backyard parties were where I learned to pour the perfect beer – with just a whisper of foam on the top. Joe this is also where I learned the art of taking the first sip of a freshly poured beer.

Dad taught us what it meant to be the consummate host. Come to any of our homes for a party and you will see we learned from the best.

Dad was competitive – I don’t need to tell you all that, right? In fact, he was so competitive that he cut down the side hills in our backyard to build a regulation badminton court in our backyard. No kidding. There was going to be no whining that your side of the court was longer or shorter. Dad made sure of that.

I can still see dad digging out the clay in his horseshoe pits and pouring the concrete slabs next to the pits. The clanging of horseshoes was music to my ears. When the daylight hours weren’t long enough, he strung spotlights in the trees. There were many nights I went to bed listening to the clang of horseshoes.

On days of backyard parties, if you wanted to play croquet you had first to traverse through the badminton court, horseshoes, jarts and then croquet.

Yes, it is a miracle we lived through it.

And that none of us are missing an eye.

I can still smell the distinct tang of dad’s cologne and mom’s perfume as they dressed up in preparation for a date to the theater or musical event. Dad loved the theater whether it was at the Dayton Theater, Taft Theater, the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, LaComedia, or Forest View Gardens. He was so proud to take us to the opening of the Aronoff. We learned our love for live performances from dad. Unfortunately for our spouses, dad also ruined our ability to accept anything less than the best seats. You can take that up with him.

Our trips to Cape Cod in the DeSoto, Station Wagon and then Nova were epic. The memories of Dad hollering about the tolls on the Pennsylvania Turnpike and mom’s inability to read a map are hilarious now.

Not so much then.

But he made sure we went to the Cape to visit because he knew how important it was to mom. And the fun we had on the Cape will always live on in my heart.

Dad was Disciplined and With Few Surprises

Dad had his opinions and was not afraid to speak them – whether you wanted to hear it or not.

Dad was a proud man. In my mind’s eye, I see dad with his shoulders pulled back and walking with purpose, he had a distinctly determined step. Watching him become frail and deteriorate to a shuffle was one of the most difficult aspects of his disease to endure.

Dad taught us the privilege and the duty of being a Finn, of living up to being a Finn. I was always proud to say, “I am Jack Finn’s daughter.” Because being associated with dad was to be associated with integrity, honor, and generosity.

He was disciplined and he came with few surprises. I mean come on, his hairstyle was the same in his engagement photo as it is in the bed where his body will forever reside.

Yet, when he surprised us – it was with great aplomb.

Like Christmas mornings. I can’t smell plastic associated with toys like Barbies and not go straight back to the Christmas mornings of my childhood. And Beth, Luke, and Will, that lining up on the steps on Christmas morn that I still make you do? – Yep – straight from Pops.

The other surprise – was Coney nights. He worked the late shift at the Enquirer. And every once in a while he would stop and buy coneys on his way home. He would then wake up only one of we kids – in the middle of the night – to eat coneys with him. The deal was we couldn’t tell anyone that we were the ‘chosen one.’ You could always tell though by the smirk on the face of the sibling who was woken for coneys the night before.

Dad had much self-discipline and doled out his discipline as well. I spent more time grounded to my bedroom in my formative years than outside of it. Truth be told he would have grounded me as an adult if he could have.

He did white glove inspections of our rooms. He required Erin & John to write weekly reports, and I was assigned to find five words in the dictionary, write the definition, and put the word in a sentence every week. All because we didn’t know how many feet there were in a mile.

You see, he expected more of us because he knew we were capable of anything. So when we weren’t living up to our potential, we endured his wrath.

Dad loved with all his heart and was not afraid to show it.

When I was little, I thought I was extra special because I was the only one in the family to have dad’s hazel eyes. And if I’m honest, I still do.:) But the truth is we were all special to dad. Everyone in this room was special to him. He loved us all.

And the best part?

He was never afraid to show it.

My favorite line that he said every time we were about to end a call was, “I love you and yours.” And he meant it. His family always came first.

I can still see him in the basement using the ping pong table as a work table. I think he had his horse racing forms laid out. He was concentrating and analyzing which pony was going to win. I came to him with a problem, as I often did, and I remember how he pushed aside his work and gave me his total attention. He was always totally present when discussing any matter of the heart. For that, I will always be grateful.

To all his grandchildren, the hugs received when you come in our door, and the hugs received when you leave – yes – that too is a legacy from your Pops. He thought you should always show your affection for family. He would lay into us when we fought as kids – telling us that we should be thankful we had siblings because he missed out on having brothers and sisters.

He always gave of himself whether collecting cans for little league baseball uniforms or bringing out and taking back garbage cans for the ladies in the mobile park.

He was a gentleman always. He opened doors. Women always went first. And I can see him walking Aunt Irmy into her apartment after an evening out. He would go first and check her apartment to be sure it was safe.

 When I was with him one Wednesday night while mom was at Bingo, he made me walk on the inside as we walked down his street. He was the protector even as he grew frail.

I want to encourage all the men in this room to be the gentleman that he role modeled for you.

Dad loved Cincinnati, the horses, and his country. As you can see, we have an American flag draped over his casket. He was proud to have served in the Air Force. He was the consummate patriot. So much that when we were kids, he made us stand with our hand over our hearts when the National Anthem played on the television.

I’d like to read a poem I believe will bring you comfort:

Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there; I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glint on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.

When you wake in the morning hush,
I am the swift, uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight.
I am the soft starlight at night.

Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there; I do not sleep.
(Do not stand at my grave and cry.
I am not there; I did not die!)

Mary Frye

On behalf of Dad, I encourage you to be disciplined in your thoughts and actions, to live life out loud because we’re given only one, and to love out loud. No apologies given.

And always remember:  Dad Loved You and Yours.

2 Comments so far:

  1. Jan Torbeck says:

    Wow, Kelly, what an amazing, gracious tribute! Spoken like a true ‘Finn’ therein! You are such a talented woman and an inspiration with your words and actions. Jan T

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