Funeral for a Friend: What do you say when you have to toast a dear friend goodbye?

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ONE OF MY FAVORITE Elton John songs is Funeral for a Friend.

It kicks off Sir Elton’s 1973 Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album that has sold more than 20 million copies and “is widely regarded as John’s magnum opus,” according to Wikipedia.

The interesting thing about Funeral for a Friend is that it is an “instrumental created by John while thinking of what kind of music he would like at his funeral” according to a review by Donald A. Guarisco.

Sir Elton John and his songwriting parter Bernie Taupin

It’s always played in a medley with another song, Love Lies Bleeding. Together, the two songs run more than 11 minutes, and Sir Elton frequently opened his concerts with them back in the mid 1970s after the Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album was released.

I know this because I heard him play them to open a concert I attended at the San Diego Sports Arena in October 1974. As incredible as Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding is on the album, it’s even better when you hear it live to kick off a concert.

How do you toast a departed friend?

THIS WAS ON MY MIND recently as I attended a memorial service for my old boss and longtime friend Tom Plate. I wrote about him and his impact on me and my career when he passed away last May, and Sir Elton’s Funeral for a Friend was playing in my head as I thought of him.

I’ve been in touch with Tom’s wife Andrea quite a bit over the last three months, and she was kind enough to ask me to give the final toast for Tom at the service that was going to be held at the yacht club where he had met with people and held court over his last few years.

But this made me wonder — what should you say when giving a toast to honor a longtime but now departed friend?

I did some research and found a lot of advice, and it seems to come down to these Five Tips for Making a Toast to the Departed:

  1. Keep things light;
  2. Be positive;
  3. Keep it brief;
  4. Be prepared;
  5. Keep things personal.

There were a couple more tips on top of that — share a personal story and, incorporate a toast. But most important of all, keep it brief. That means no more than a minute, or two.

A few final words for a treasured friend

I POURED ALL THAT ADVICE into my brain, swirled it around, and decided that a couple of minutes sounded about right.

Andrea Plate in front of a photo of her late husband Tom Plate

Here’s what I said about my good friend and former boss, Thomas Gordon Plate. See if you feel that it hits the right tone:

There is much I would love to say about my dear friend Tom Plate, but in my research on giving a toast like this, I found that the goal is to be brief  … and to keep it to a minute, or two.

Our good friend Tom, who was NEVER short on words, would surely laugh about that.

Tom and I go back to 1978 when he hired me right out of college to work for him on the Editorial pages of the old LA Herald Examiner. He was my first professional boss, and from that grew a close friendship that lasted for an all-too-brief 45 years.

So as we toast Tom, I thought I might repeat a few words, from Tom, that he wrote to Friends of Asia Media at Loyola Marymount in April 2020, because they sound like something he would say if he were here with all of us today:

Tom said:

“Over the past year some of you have offered me considerable consolation and ‘spiritual’ backing … it has not always been easy…..But without your positive karma and charm, it would be much harder …. Cheers and bestest, Tom”

So, please lift your glass to toast our beautiful friend Tom Plate …

To Tom — Here’s to all the nights we can’t remember … with a dear friend we’ll never forget.


LOSING CLOSE, LONGTIME friends can be hard, but we honor them when we remember and reflect on their lives — how they were, what they said, and what they stood for. It’s why we take the time to toast them after they’re gone, and hope that others will do the same for us when it’s time for our own final toast.

Vaya con dios, Tom Plate. I can’t tell you how much I miss you but cherish the fact that I had one more chance to toast you and say a final goodbye.

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