Out in the Open

A father's hilarious last words allowed him to be present at his own funeral

Max Israelite wrote his own eulogy before he died. His son was grateful to bring his dad to life by reading it at the funeral.

Max Israelite wrote his own eulogy before he died

Max Israelite, left, poses with his wife, Helen, and grandson Aron, circa 1982. Max wrote his own eulogy before he died in 2007. (Courtesy of Larry Israelite)
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After his father's funeral in 2007, Larry Israelite received an email from some family friends who had attended.

He recalls it saying: "You Israelites really know how to throw a funeral."

Larry's father, Max, became a writer late in his life. In his retirement, Max published stories and had a column in the local newspaper.

Before he died, he left a piece of writing that his son now sees as a generous gift to the family: he wrote his own eulogy.

"I'm actually happier that he did this because it might have been hard without his blessing to deal with his death in the way that we chose to deal with it," Larry says.

They dealt with his death through laughter.

In the eulogy, Max recalls a recent funeral he had attended: "After listening to the praises heaped upon the dear departed," Max writes, "many of which were demonstrably untrue, it was suggested that, since few have my innate capacity for flimflam, I should be permitted to select the lies that would be told about me at my own funeral."

Larry was the one to read it out loud once his dad had passed.

"I thought that it would allow him to speak to all of the people in the room in a way that most people, after they die, don't have the opportunity to do."

After a life spent as a farmer and postal worker, Max became a writer in his retirement. (Courtesy of Larry Israelite)

Larry's now 65 years old. He, too, plans to write his own last words. The question isn't if, but when.

"Maybe at 75, I'll start contemplating that question."

Here's the full text of Max Israelite's eulogy:

It was following a family funeral that I attended with my daughter Neita that the idea that I should write my own eulogy was born. After listening to the praises heaped upon the dear departed, many of which were demonstrably untrue, it was suggested that, since few have my innate capacity for flimflam, I should be permitted to select the lies that would be told about me at my own funeral.

Neita insisted that, to set the tone for what was to follow, my eulogist should begin: "He was a very tall man, with a beautiful head of hair." Beyond that, she was content to leave the selection of fabrications to me, which is as it should be. I yield to no man in my ability to dissemble.

Since early on in the proceedings we would need to inject a bit of humour, the reader of my eulogy could cite a few of my favourite tombstone inscriptions. First, the whiny: "I told you I didn't feel well." Next, the plaintive complaint: "But the doctor said it was only a sinus infection." And finally, the philosophic acceptance of fate's design: "I always suspected something like this was going to happen."

He would then get to the meat of his discourse. Concerning my athletic abilities, he could say, "An unfortunate wartime injury prevented him from realizing a lifelong dream of playing shortstop for the Brooklyn Dodgers." He would ignore the fact that there was only one thing that kept me out of the big leagues: no talent.

The eulogist could make a great deal of hay with my war record, or absence thereof. The truth is, I did take part in World War II – that was the Big One, you know – but I suspect if I had gone AWOL immediately after Pearl Harbor, and stayed out of sight until V-J Day, the outcome of the war would have been approximately the same.

But he would not speak of that; instead, he would say: "The operations he was engaged in during the war in the Pacific were so sensitive that even now, more than half a century later, they are still shrouded in secrecy. All his valiant deeds have been expunged from his army records, and if you were to read those records today, they would blandly maintain that he was only a simple soldier, who went where he was sent, did what he was told to do, and no more. How tragic that the need for military secrecy prevents the world from knowing the true dimensions of his contribution to the survival of the Free World!"

So much for fabrication. There are a few items that need no amplification. And modesty being an inappropriate virtue at this time, I will engage in none.

Max, second from right, poses with his son Larry and grandsons Ben and Aron. (Courtesy of Larry Israelite)

It may be said that I was a wise man. I was wise in the friendships I made. I will not name all my treasured friends, lest, in my dotage, I omit one, and thereby cause unintended pain. But you all know who you are, and what you have meant to me. Your friendship has sustained me all my life, and enriched it beyond measure.

I was wise in my choice of parents, siblings and their descendents. Always loud, often contentious, frequently exasperating, nonetheless each of the members of my family has taught me much.

I was wise (and undeservedly lucky) in my choice of a wife, a choice that brought me more happiness than I had ever known, and was the basis for the remarkable contentment I have enjoyed all my life. I was unaccountably wise in my choice of children – my son the doctor (OK, Ph.D.) and my daughter the university professor have always been the source of more pride and pleasure than they knew. And their choices of marriage partners have been the making of this family.

And, most of all, I was incredibly wise in my choice of grandsons; my wish is that all grandparents could reap as bountiful a harvest of joy from their grandchildren as I have from mine. I counted the opportunity to observe them as they grew up – and up, and up – as the high point of a life that was rich and full – indeed, richer and fuller than anyone should reasonably expect.

I have requested that if there are to be tears at this ceremony, they be kept to an irreducible minimum. I would like this event to be considered, not as mourning for a life that has ended, but the celebration of a life that was lived.

Hey, guys, just this once, will you please do as you are told?


This story originally aired on February 18, 2018. It appears in the Out in the Open episode "Last Words".

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