By Dan Roth, VP Public Relations

My grandmother had a saying: we plan; God laughs. Sunday of Labor Day Weekend brought that saying once again to life. I was enjoying a lazy morning, sitting in my pajamas when my father called me. Not thinking anything out of the ordinary, but the tone of his voice immediately let me know something was wrong.

“Your uncle Mike passed away this morning.”

I just sat in shock with the phone against my ear.

My uncle had not been sick; I had just seen him over Christmas, and he was his usual jovial self–with a big smile. As usual, we discussed books and history. The call with my father then began a series of calls to family members, by the next day it was decided the service for my uncle would be the following Saturday, and my mother called to ask me if I would give the eulogy.

How do you sum up the life of any person in a few minutes? And how do you capture what he meant to his wife, his family and his friends and to myself?

I flew home to California and  had the opportunity to sit down with my aunt, my uncle’s friends, and my mother and her brothers, and I heard stories about my uncle that I had never known–everything from the car that he took his driving test in to how he would love to have my aunt sing to him. We laughed and cried, and in his passing I began to see many sides of his life that I had not known.

My uncle and I shared a love of books, and both of us really enjoyed A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle. He taught me how to make the best hamburgers, and he would take me and my brothers to car shows. But I also learned how we would visit his 91 year old neighbor to make sure her car was running ok and just to sit and talk with her; that he attended his neighbor’s children’s graduations, and he had kept a toy truck in perfect condition that he had received as a Christmas present when he was 10 years old.

I wanted to make sure that I spoke from the heart, so I prepared what I wanted to talk about in broad terms, wanting to recollect specific stories, but also to keep the speech authentic.

As people arrived, the wonderful spirit of my uncle was palpable. He had wanted it to be a celebration, and it truly was. With friends from high school to his neighbors we shared stories. I had never seen my uncle wear a tie, and the celebration of his life was a laid back affair.

And when it was time to speak, I simply just spoke from my heart. I laughed and cried, and after I finished sharing what his life meant for me, several other people joined in.

Toastmasters has taught me not just how to become a better speaker, but how to have the ability in a difficult circumstance to find the right words. We talk about how Toastmasters will help you in your professional life (which it certainly does) but more than that with prepared speeches, impromptu speeches, thinking about whom we are giving our speeches to, considering the words we use and our gestures, Toastmasters has enabled me to simply confront truly difficult speaking situations–both personally and professionally–with confidence.

When I finished many people told me that my words had really honored him, and that was the best compliment that I could hope to receive.