Writing a Tribute

In one of my favorite books Bird by Bird, Anne Lamotte offers a challenge in the last chapter. She talks about writing not for the sake of ever getting discovered or published, but to show a friend how she is appreciated, to celebrate grandpa’s 90th birthday, to console a grieving neighbor. Words are always powerful, even if they are never famous words.

Writing can be a great gift, not only in your own personal life, but in how you use your words for others. I don’t always have the money for a thoughtful gift, but when I don’t have money, I use words. I write a note for a birthday or a Christmas gift. Most of the time I write a note to my husband for our anniversary, too.

In our current culture, we don’t always take the time to tell others how important they are, and sometimes it’s hard to do that face-to-face without feeling uncomfortable or getting weepy. A tribute provides a way to express your thoughts in a way that is just as intimate.

So, how should you write a tribute?

1. Make it specific: Provide a tangible reason for honoring your recipient. Think of a specific story to capture the beauty of your loved one.

2. Avoid the cliche: Don’t say things like, “You’ve always been there for me” or “You’ve always had my back.” Yes, we all know what it means. So, you don’t need to repeat it. Refer back to #1 and come up with something original, specific.

3. Make it genuine: Use your own voice. If you aren’t a sappy and sentimental person by nature, don’t write that way. If you aren’t a great joke teller, don’t open with your best one-liner. Make your tribute honest and real.

4. Don’t wait for a special occasion to give someone a tribute: If you want to offer someone praise through words, don’t wait to write it for a birthday, anniversary, holiday, or a funeral. If you have words to give, give those words freely with love and consideration.

About five years ago, my cousins and I wrote a tribute for my grandmother’s funeral. Each of us wrote something about Mama Lill, and each of us added a unique spin. In general, we all talked about her cooking, her patriotism, her love of family. One cousin did a top ten list, my brothers told stories. I wrote an extended metaphor about how life was like Mama Lill’s kitchen (*cough* English major). We also spoke the truth. You see, my grandmother could be incredibly blunt, plus she excelled at guilt trips. She could hint that you needed to lose weight and then in the same breath question why you hated her cooking when you put down the second piece of pie. Trust me, she had a gift.

At her funeral, all of the grandkids wrote something that reflected her personality without glossing over her … frankness. We all loved her dearly, and none of us spent any time covering up her faults. Instead, we embraced her unique spirit and outlook on life. Her funeral was a great send off.

Paint the picture of the person you know – with flaws and all. Find the good within and share it. Use your creativity in every day moments.


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  1. #1 by Beth on November 28, 2012 - 12:36 pm

    I love the picture. Priceless. The grandchildren made your grandmother’s funeral so special. It helped make it a time of celebration for all of your family. I loved getting to know her through all of you.

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