The 'Predeath Eulogy': Fab Birthday Surprise Or Narcissistic Folly

Enough about YOU, let's talk about ME.

In Joel Stein’s latest column for TIME magazine, titled “What’s Not to Love?“, he talks about a new phenomenon I was unfamiliar with: asking the friends of a person with a big birthday coming up to write an essay about that person to be collected and put into a book to be presented to the man or woman of honor at their birthday party. After claiming that he is asked to write these essays every few months (!!), Stein humorously notes, “I cannot believe that it took our narcissistic culture this long to come up with the predeath eulogy.”

The gist of Stein’s article is that he already talks about himself so much—and always in a positive way and way more eloquently than any of his friends could possibly muster—so for his 40th birthday he  felt compelled to ask his friends to write about what they hate the most about him, tell stories of past slights, or offer embarrassing photos from the past. Of course, they still wrote mostly positive things, but the results make for some very funny stories that only a supremely confident personality could handle hearing. Kind of like a roast, but not nearly so mean,… and with actual friends doing the roasting.

As a writer, I can see how this would be a great way to celebrate the big 4-0, or any other big birthday, really. Because what better way to celebrate a friend, or to be celebrated by friends, than through the power of the written word. It’s a gift that will probably boost your ego, possibly tug your heartstrings, and eventually could provide a window to your personality that your children and future genealogically-inclined generations could leaf through and feel like they really know you since the essays are written through the prism of friendships and the pop culture of your time.

As a cynic, it seems like yet another way to have your ego fluffed—and the person who would most appreciate the present is most likely the friend LEAST in need of fluffing. Is there a better invitation for eye-rolling and comments on how “insufferable” you are from detractors? And thinking of it as a “predeath eulogy” makes me more than a little squeamish because it brings me back to the morbid thoughts of teenaged depressives imagining what their funeral would be like if they died. C’mon, don’t tell me you didn’t indulge in this fantasy as a kid.

As a parent, I think my 40th birthday will be the last birthday that R-rated stories from my past could be talked about out loud. My kids are still young enough that they 1.) would be to busy playing with friends to listen to the “boring” adult speeches, or 2.) can be left with a babysitter for the night without being too offended that they aren’t invited to the party. I certainly don’t want those stories to be shared with my teenaged kids, so I couldn’t indulge in this kind of toast/roast party again until my 60 when the kids have reached adulthood!

As an apologetic egotist, I want all my friends to start working on their essay, because I turn 40 this June and am planning on throwing a killer party, but will probably be too embarrassed to ask them to do it.

What say you? Would you have the nerve to ask friends to write an essay about you or do you think this is just rampant narcissism. Have you participated in the creation of one of these books of essays, or is this just an LA thing (which wouldn’t be surprising, come to think of it, given the star culture there)?

Joel Stein, in addition to writing for TIME, writes the blog More Stories About Some Kid with his wife, Cassandra Barry, on Babble Voices.

Photo Credit: Book of ME, available on Amazon.Com.

Read more of Amy Windsor’s writing at Bitchin’ Wives Club.
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