I watched most of Elizabeth Edwards’ funeral this morning viewed from a little streaming video box, a far different experience from sitting inside a grand church. I thought about those who spoke about her knowing their words would instantly be quoted by the media and broadcast to the world. Crafting a eulogy is both an honor and, for most, one of the most difficult pieces of writing anyone may be asked to compose. How does one sum up in words everything that defined a loved one’s life and what that life meant to you? It’s daunting. The best you can hope for is that you speak from the heart, and both connect with and comfort other mourners. A well-written eulogy is a gift to all.

Harder still is standing up to deliver it. For many, speaking in public is very stressful to begin with; speaking through the grief and shock of someone’s passing is worse. You fear you will stumble on the way to the podium, stumble with your words, break down and cry and be unable to finish, failing at the finish line.

But the hardest thing of all has nothing to do with words or writing at all. It comes after everything has been said and sung, whatever religious blessings delivered, and it’s time to leave. It is getting up and following the casket as it is taken down the aisle to be taken for burial or to a crematorium. Those are the slowest and most surreal steps, when it becomes so terribly real that someone you knew and loved is in that box, and is never coming back.

The walk behind the dead, even if you are surrounded by those who clasp your hand or put a hand on your shoulder, is done alone, and its finality never forgotten.