I used to write wedding vows for a living, but since COVID-19, I've pivoted my business to writing eulogies

Flavio Lo Scalzo/ReutersCemetery workers and funeral agency workers in a cemetery in Bergamo, Italy in March.
  • Alexis Dent is a freelance writer based in upstate New York whose company, XO Juliet, offers custom wedding vow writing services.
  • By mid-March, her business all but dried up as spring and summer weddings began getting cancelled because of the pandemic.
  • Dent recognised there was a new need for eulogies to meet the rising number of funerals for people who passed away from COVID-19.
  • “When I get a new order, I take a moment of silence,” says Dent. “Every order for the past month has been a notification that someone is gone too soon.”
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One afternoon in February, I was staring out the window, experiencing writer’s block after getting off the phone with a client who’d ordered wedding vows. It had been a long afternoon of writing, and I needed a change of scenery so I could reinvigorate my inspiration to finish the work day strong. It’s been three years since I added wedding vow writing to my conglomerate of professional writing endeavours, but that doesn’t mean I’ve grown out of the occasional creative block.

Alexis dentCourtesy of Alexis DentAlexis Dent.

I decided to go for a drive. Despite it being a cold day in upstate New York, I cracked the window open – there’s nothing like the fresh air to make you feel rejuvenated. It only took about 40 minutes to run my errands, and I arrived back home ready to conquer the list of orders I had to finish.

Now, 37 days into my quarantine, I look back at that impulsive errand as a blessing.

As the days passed and the month progressed, the news got more serious. By the time March arrived, it was clear that life was about to change. And by mid-March, our orders for wedding vows came to a screeching halt.

Given that I own a wedding-related business, I was aware that the industry would be hit hard.

Although I have other revenue streams besides XO Juliet – like ghostwriting memoirs and marketing consulting – I knew I had to adapt to these uncertain times. There’s no telling how long it will take for life to return to normal. (Or at least, to a new normal.) Thus, there’s no telling when our industry will rebound. So while yes, I’m lucky to still have income from other industries, I take a certain pride in the business I was able to grow from quite literally nothing. Last summer’s busy months alone had a strong six-figure showing that confirmed to me that the wedding industry was a great industry to be in.

And while I am notoriously averse to discussing anything morbid, as the pandemic began its rampage I knew that there was a new need to be addressed. People were losing their loved ones and had no way to verbalize their grief during this senseless time. Ever the entrepreneurial spirit, I knew that it was time to pivot. Owning a business requires flexibility and adaptation, and regardless of how much money I was bringing in elsewhere, I wasn’t going to neglect my business.

And then it hit me.

My business tagline is “We put your love on paper.”

Weddings aren’t the only life event for which people need help expressing their feelings; funerals are an impactful life event as well. People pass away each and every day, and that has become exponentially more true as the COVID-19 pandemic progresses.

Before making the decision to add eulogy writing to our list of services – which we promote organically and now via Google ads – I experienced conflicting emotions. At first I felt guilt about expanding to this niche. I refuse to exploit people – especially during a traumatic and grief-ridden time.

However, I realised that, much like writing vows, writing eulogies proves difficult for many people. No matter how much you love someone, sometimes you struggle to write about them. Sometimes the words just don’t flow. And when you’re up there standing in front of that person’s family and friends, you want to do right by them.

Two months have passed, and we haven’t received a single order for wedding vows. Not one. Globally, around 3 billion people are in lockdown – and no one in the world is having a big wedding. Quite frankly, none of us know when that will change. I long for the day where I can write joyful, humorous, and sentimental vows again, but for now I’m writing joyful, humorous, and sentimental eulogies. I’ve realised that writing eulogies isn’t grim. Sad, sure. But not grim. Eulogies are just another one of life’s opportunities to honour someone whom you love.

Although my business is a way to sustain my livelihood, it’s also my passion to share people’s love stories.

To me, sharing people’s love isn’t a paycheck; it’s a blessing. The fact that people even trust me with something so precious and intimate is an incredible privilege. Every time I interview a client and learn about their loved one, I get to share in a tiny bit of that love as well. Much like our wedding vow process, I correspond with the client via their communication method of choice (email, telephone, or video chat). And much like our wedding vow process, I largely let them lead the way, and only chime in with questions as necessary. You know the person you love best; I’m just here to help you convey that.

The pageviews for our eulogy writing soar by 50-100 page views day-over-day, and every day corresponding orders roll in as a result. Whenever I get a new order, I take a moment of silence. Every order for the past month has been a notification that someone is gone too soon – because it’s always too soon.

These days, I still stare out my window. As spring slowly blooms in my hometown, I often crack the window and listen to the birds chirp. Beyond the sweet chirping, the world largely feels still. I hear less cars. Less bass erupting from speakers. Less honking. Less sirens. Less laughter. Less movement. Life feels on pause, and the birds chirping in the trees are often my only reminder that life is still moving on out there.

As I go through my list of orders this morning and stare out of the window, I acknowledge that the world may feel still, but my pen must move on.

Alexis Dent is an essayist, author, and poet. She is also the founder of the premier wedding vow writing service XO Juliet. Connect with her on Twitter and Instagram.

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