Have You Written Your Own Eulogy? I Have, Here Is its Update, and Why I Would Recommend Doing Your Own


Here’s why you should try writing your own eulogy.


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Maybe you are one of the rare ones who read Dr Moffic’s, aka Steve, Stevie, Steven, Hillard, Maf, Moffic, Doc, Hillel, and Hey-Hey, own original eulogy. What is in his name? Dr Moffic is what he is usually called in his psychiatric work; Steve is his most common informal name; Stevie is used by loved ones; Steven is sometimes sternly said when his wife feels he has done something wrong; Hillard is his real first name, Steven the middle; Maf is his nickname from his best friend growing up; Moffic is used at various times, perhaps because it is hard to pronounce, reminds some of the Mafia, and apparently (in answering a question of “Where did you get that last name?”) is the only such last name in the world, provided to my paternal grandfather at Ellis Island; Doc sometimes by patients; and Hey-Hey was designated by his eldest grandchild when he was a baby. Maybe these names tell you all you need to know about him, but hopefully you want to hear more.

Even before he started to write eulogies of other psychiatrists for Psychiatric Times, he decided to write his own experimental eulogy for the blog site “Over 65.” At the time, he was not familiar with many personal eulogies and, actually, still is not. Biographies and autobiographies about psychiatrists in particular are also rare, due to work confidentiality and disclosure concerns.

That blog site was developed and led by his colleague and friend, James Sabin, and sponsored by the renowned Hastings Center, devoted to ethical issues in medicine. I was one of several regular bloggers. Serendipitously or not, that site died off on October 20, 2014, but on June 25, 2015 it was established as a lasting archive about “the challenge facing our aging society.” So, if you would like to do so, you can start reading his much shorter “Writing Your Own Eulogy” on that site. That one was written in the first person, and he is still obviously alive.

Updating a Living Eulogy

Now, almost a decade later, he was struck by the need to update it, as he predicted and hoped for in the original blog. This time, though, he wants some distance from it, so it is in the third person, by me, in conceit. Death and dying seem too close now.

A couple of times along the way he added brief updates, but I understand that the inspiration for a major update came from a couple of other recent sources. One was an abnormal intestinal test, requiring follow-up to assess any grave danger. The other is the birthday, July 25, 2023, of his best friend of 70 years since they were 7 years old, but who died suddenly on December 1, 2023. Maf and his wife had just visited this best friend and his family. He was an artist, and during that visit, he and Maf worked on starting his memoir collection of online images, some of which have graced book chapters that Maf wrote in recent years. They never finished the collection.

Besides, writing one’s own eulogy can be a therapeutic process, as it was for Dr Moffic the first time around. It can be a way to pull our lives together, to compare the life we once had wished for, and come to peace with what we actually have.

Those who know him might wonder why he just would not leave his eulogy to the professionals, his Rabbi son Evan and his Rabbi wife Ari, as well as his career counselor daughter Stacia. Actually, I heard a bit of eulogy from Stacey and Evan when they were selected to present at a symposium some years back at the American Psychiatric Association on being the children of psychiatrists. Though clergy having psychiatrist children is common, the other side, a psychiatrist like him having a clergy child, is very rare, so worth emphasizing for whatever that may mean.

Of course, they can still add their own eulogies, and Evan actually recommended a book to him before the original eulogy: Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life by the English psychoanalyst Adam Phillips. Phillips points out that we can be haunted by unfulfilled dreams, but we can close the gap in our own deliberations, perhaps with feedback from loved ones or even a therapist.

If his wife Rusti survives him, she can provide a eulogy. I got told a secret, though, that Stevie hopes that whenever they die, that it might be together.

Since it is still available, it seems unnecessary to go completely over the prior eulogy, but rather just to insert prior musings as I add some revisions.

Revisions and Corrections to My Living Eulogy

First, Dr Moffic considered an epitaph for a tombstone based on his work, but now realizes what he tentatively suggested was wrong and inappropriate. He had suggested: “He Tried to Stay on the Ethical Way.” That was related to his work career focus on ethical challenges and the 1997 controversial book, The Ethical Way: Challenges & Solutions of Managed Behavioral Healthcare. In conjunction with the American Association for Community Psychiatrists, for which he was a founding board member, he and his wife for many years sponsored an award: The Moffic Award for Ethics in Managed Behavioral Healthcare.

He also had an ethical and moral decision while in medical school at Yale. The Vietnam War was on and, upon graduation, if it was still going on in 1971, he would likely be drafted. To not do so, he could get a Conscientious Objector (CO), which his lawyer father said could be done, or apply for the Berry Plan, owing the armed forces 2 years after finishing his residency. At the last minute, he felt that he could not be a CO because he was not against all wars, applied for the Berry Plan, and was accepted. The army experience as a psychiatrist was revelatory and important, becoming familiar with that culture, having to manage the 2 sometimes conflicting health care and military ethical priorities (such as the Army’s dismissal of those with homosexuality), and the responsibility that came from being the only other psychiatrist on base, the other also being straight out of residency, and in moonlighting in the Anniston, Alabama community. Now, whenever the Army song is played, he stands up and tears flow.

All this is fine, and sort of like the related ethical wills that are common, but not most important to him. Maybe his recent retirement was the culprit. To my relief, he had some insight, admitted his mistake, and noted at that time that this omitted something crucial, to quote:

“A comment on the most important person in my life, my wife and muse, Rusti. Maybe I need more time to make an adequate epitaph for her, if words are at all adequate enough.”

Well, the words still are not adequate, but the revision is necessary. How about simply:

“To Rusti: My Wife; My Life”

After all, it is clear to that he would not have lived very long without her. By the time he met her early in college at the University of Michigan, he had the most severe of several concussions, being unconscious for a week or so. That illustrated why he had received the special dubious high school honor of being “Most Accident Prone” in addition to “Most Modest.” As a consequence for his dare deviling, he was nicknamed “Animal.” No sense about being egotistical about causing your own accidents, is there? That is, unless you want to praise your own recovery! After they started dating, no more serious accidents.

Moreover, Rusti was also a muse, not only his work, but for his exposure to the arts and culture after a childhood consumed with sports participation and dreams, basically and realistically ending after suffering a compound fracture of his left leg by skiing without lessons for the first time in high school.

Rusti gave up a budding career as a Broadway star to marry and have a family, working as a pioneering learning disabilities specialist teacher. You can clearly hear the promise if you listen to any of her singing introductions to his weekly video on “Psychiatry & Society” for Psychiatric Times.

A Professional Psychiatrist Career

Not to be too narcissistic, perhaps again, but there is a funny story about how he received a one-time designation in 2002 as a “Hero of Public Psychiatry” by the Speaker of the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association. He had actually been tricked by the Speaker; after being asked to provide some nominations, which he did, she ended saying that he was also deserving of the award.

Given that honor, you can add to it his awards of the intermittently given “Administrative Psychiatrist Award” by the APA in 2016, after the original eulogy. He always said that administrative work seemed more difficult than treating individual patients. One time, a colleague warned him: “An enemy will stab you in the back, while a friend will stab you in the stomach.”

Professionally, not long before the original eulogy, he retired from administrative and clinical work on July 1, 2012. However, he ended up realizing that he did not retire from psychiatry. Given the ubiquitous relevance of psychiatry in life, once a psychiatrist, always a psychiatrist. Without expecting to do so, he wrote and spoke more about psychiatric issues, especially those related to the interaction of society and psychiatry, which is the focus of that weekly video for Psychiatric Times, and which began early in the pandemic and is still—for better or worse—going on, better because they must still be relevant, and worse because the social problems still need addressing. That got supplemented by a brief column on “Psychiatric Views on the Daily News” for the other weekdays. Shortly before that, he was asked to edit a book on Islamophobia and Psychiatry, successful enough that there is now a series of them for Springer International: Anti-Semitism and Psychiatry, then Christianity and Psychiatry, and the current work-in-progress on The Eastern Religions, Spirituality, and Psychiatry.

A Personal Spiritual Evolution

Personally, this sort of retirement left much more time to spend with his wife. They decided to share a computer and, although some predicted it would lead to the end of marriage, it has only strengthened it. They have travelled more and worked together more, as Rusti had always hoped.

Besides his career surprises during retirement or, as I rephrase it, “refirement,” there have also been personal ones. He has been blessed by 2 late life friends, one a retired emergency physician, who realized that Hey-Hey had burned out like himself, and the other more recently, when they connected so unexpectedly deeply during a simple first time dinner of couples.

In a spiritual surprise, a few years back, around Rosh Hashanah of the Jewish High Holy Days, he began to receive what he started to describe as daily serendipities, where a surprise resonance of events or ideas seemed to spontaneously emerge. That happens almost every time he is about to write a column. Although a Rabbi suggested he was just noticing something that was happening already, that did not seem accurate to him. Well, maybe the Rabbi did have a point, as way back when he met his wife, it was a serendipity that he went to a Hillel mixer, which he normally would not have done, and spotted her dancing alone across the crowded room—love at first sight.

A colleague much later said that he had become “a vessel of the divine.” Actually, the moniker was “Gadfly Vessel of the Divine” as his former residency chair fondly designated him as a gadfly, buzzing around and bothering colleagues about social issues in psychiatry. That felt right. In fact, when he began this eulogy update, it was on the same morning as the birthday celebration at the synagogue of his newest close friend. I also came to know that there is a whole field of research study by now about serendipity and the related synchronicity, led by the psychiatrist Bernard Beitman, MD.

Such serendipities also seemed to connect to his actual birthday, if that is appropriate. Several years back he had been invited to discuss the movie “Children of Hitler.” Of course, those were not the actual children of Hitler as Hitler had none, but of other high-ranking Nazis. Maybe half of them went on to continue to support the Nazi ideology after the war and half worked to redress it and devote themselves to reducing anti-Semitism. As he was preparing for what he might say to lead off the discussion, he told me that he suddenly realized, that among the almost infinite number of contributions to anyone being born at a particular time, among them for his conception and birth was the Holocaust. Here is how that happened. His lawyer father was a late volunteer for the American Army, got stationed in Dayton, Ohio, met his mother at a UFO mixer, got married, and he was born about 9 months after the war ended on May 5, 1946. Added to that development was the expectation that his mother could not have children due to her chronic heart valve problem from rheumatic fever.

Once he had that insight, he felt he had to devote more time and effort toward anti-Semitism and he has, including extensive commentary in his Psychiatric Times columns about the recent trial of the Pittsburgh synagogue mass shooter. In the original eulogy, he mentioned that May 5th is also Cinco de Mayo Day and Japanese Children’s Day. While discussing that movie, he found out it was also the date of the late uprising of the Czech Republic against the Nazi occupation.

Empowering Patients and Himself

The original eulogy was written when the ability to add comments to a given blog was available, and he received a dozen in response to his eulogy. They were positive and affirming of others doing them. Some added comments he had left out of the original eulogy, including:

“He empowered his patients.”

That seemed so true once it was said. He even tried to do that in most serious everyday interactions with family, friends, classmates, and even bosses, doing that by listening carefully with the “third ear” typical of psychiatrists.

He always asked patients what they thought was wrong, what they thought might help, and what gave their lives the most meaning. What Adam Phillips said about people in general, Dr Moffic found prominent in the patients he worked with. Dreams readily often dissipated and were deferred as mental illness changed the person and limited their capabilities, at least for a time. Fortunately, he paired with a caseworker in Houston, and together, they searched for, found, and exposed the treasures that their patients still had.

He, himself, encountered unexpected obstacles in his work. Perhaps naively thinking that medicine and psychiatry would just be devoted to patient care, over time big business started taking over. In the systems he worked, he then had a boss who was convicted for participating in buying and selling public facilities in Houston for a profit, and a later boss who stopped support when profits decreased. Becoming involved in the controversial area of managed care, he once was called “evil” by an American Psychiatric Association President, who later privately apologized. There was also some strong criticism when he first became concerned with climate change in 2009. The department chair at the time laughed at this research focus, and some other faculty members at his medical school thought it was unethical to want to make some individuals more anxious about the climate so they would help stop the worrisome change. Fortunately, with the support of Rusti and an adapted vision for the future, his resilience always kicked in. Particularly sad was a prosumer, a student he had and tried to nourish who also had severe mental illness, who then turned on him in a time of personal and system crisis. Weirdly enough, all these involved individuals have died long ago.

What happened in Houston necessitated a move to Milwaukee because it would have been quite challenging to “work under a dark cloud,” even if that dark cloud was precipitated by someone else. However, the unanticipated paradoxical benefit in doing so was deciding to come back to Chicago and Milwaukee as he knew his mother was now dying, and she did 6 months later. and His father followed a couple of years after that. Fortunately, his younger sister had stayed in Chicago and always took care of them so well. One lesson learned that returned later was how important it is to be with loved ones before they died, once that became an increasing risk.

A former editor of Psychiatric Times, Ronald W. Pies, MD, who brought him aboard as a blogger even before he did the original eulogy, wrote:

“I think that in the process of contemplating our own eulogies, we are really engaging in such soul-searching, which is a good thing. And it provides a wonderful opportunity, as you have shown, to express gratitude . . . When you speak lovingly of your wife and children, Steve, you are clearly expressing gratitude, and that says a great deal about you.”

Given that such a public eulogy needs to omit some deeply personal information, it can be summarily said that, as Dr Pies wrote, that his greatest satisfaction has come from his marriage and the development of his children into the successful and good individuals that they are.

Certainly, there have been personal triumphs and tragedies among family and friends over this decade, a time when his 4 grandchildren—Noah, Mira, Hannah, and Allie—have been growing up. Moreover, they are discussing more about their impending deaths with their children and can sense a beginning shift toward the children providing more advice and care of them.

Certainly, after the retirement from administrative and clinical work, the everyday social became even more important to him. That also connected with his career focus on the social aspects of psychiatry, including being President of the American Association for Social Psychiatry around the new millennium. He has come to think that social psychiatry is based in any basic social relationship, from parent and child to therapist and patient, but also writ large to bigger social systems. He was also gratified to find various roles for a psychiatrist in the everyday aspects of living in a community.

Getting ready for death and dying still calls for more preparation. Time and ability willing, Steve and Rusti, aka Rustevie, have accumulated much, most stored in their basement. Steve, who once reviewed jazz records as “Dr Jazz”, is looking for a loving home for his collection.

There is also one last name Dr Moffic has been given: the Hebrew name of Hillel. Some years back, during weekly Torah Study, he and his Rabbi could not think of his Hebrew name, maybe because of all the English name confusion. After a couple of tries, the Rabbi picked Hillel, which does sound a little like Dr Moffic’s real first English name, Hillard. Hillel was a renowned Jewish sage at the turn of the common era, famous for this saying, among others:

"If I am not for myself, who will be?

If I am only for myself, what am I?

If not now, when?"

Dr Moffic has been trying to live up to this ideal and now often signs his name: Steven (Hillel) Moffic.

Starting Your Own Eulogy

To close the eulogy—but not life—for now, I wonder how many of you readers have thought about what you would like said at your eulogy or written in your obituary. Whatever that might be, you can begin your own eulogy in any way you prefer. If you are young enough and healthy enough, such soul-searching can help guide you toward a more meaningful and aspirational future.

Although anybody of any age could write their own eulogy, I think it is especially connected to our work, not only from the example of Freud’s interpretation of his own dreams, but how often we try to understand what is important to our patients, as well as our sometimes problematic personal countertransference reactions to that out of our own lives. I would also wonder, then, whether writing a personal eulogy could also be valuable for patients to do for themselves as they have hopefully recovered well enough—or spectacularly—from their mental challenges. In some way, perhaps our evaluation of a given patient is a start of their eulogy as we try to put their life together.

I would recommend doing your own personal eulogy whenever and however you can, even more strongly now that I have lived with my original for about a decade, hoping that I will do a third version in another decade.

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues related to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times.

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