A eulogy is a short speech given at a funeral or memorial service to honor someone who has died. Writing and delivering a eulogy can seem like a daunting task, especially if you feel you are neither a writer nor a public speaker.
Gather with Family and Friends to Gather Information and Stories
If you are the designated sole eulogy presenter you may want a clear understanding of what was important to others. To that end, request an informal family and friends meeting to gather information and stories. With each story shared you'll likely feel less pressure regarding getting the eulogy right. You may also begin to have a sense that the healing process is beginning in the here and now. If there isn’t time or it isn’t possible to gather in person to share memories and stories for the eulogy, consider asking close friends and relatives for help via zoom, email or a phone call.
Some key elements to include when writing a eulogy are:
1. Start by mentioning your relationship to the deceased. Those assembled to pay tribute to your loved one will want to know who you are and why you’re standing before them. Introduce yourself, state your relationship to the deceased, and indicate why you are delivering the eulogy (Did you ask to deliver it? Did the family ask you?).
2. Next: give structure to the mid-section - the heart - of the eulogy. A good eulogy feels meaningful to others and serves many purposes. It can provide mourners with a way to define and acknowledge: loss emotions; the uniqueness of the deceased; specifics of what has been lost and why that loss hurts – is of personal and/or collective significance; lessons learned from the life of the deceased. With that in mind, the mid-section or heart of the eulogy can include stories and anecdotes illustrating your loved one’s character, best qualities, values they held dear, and biggest accomplishments.
Note: None of us is perfect – it isn’t necessary to glorify your loved ones in order for your fellow funeral attendees to appreciate what is being lost in your loved one’s passing. Frustrations and faults can be touched upon in a kind, compassionate and accepting way - and with humor.
3. End on a consoling and meaningful note. It can be challenging to know how to end a eulogy; thinking in terms of consolation and meaning can be helpful. Song lyrics, poems, prayers, and famous quotes that are descriptive of your loved one’s values and the meaning they brought to your life and the lives of the gathered mourners can be effective and connecting.
Here are some short and simple guidelines for presenting a eulogy:
You don’t have to be perfect. Good will abounds at funerals and life memorials. People are there to listen to what you have to say without judgment; they are there to share in loss and pay tribute. It’s okay if you are nervous and every word you say doesn’t come out just right. Your good intentions will create heartfelt connections – this is what your fellow mourners will appreciate and remember.
And it is okay to cry – your fellow mourners will accept your tears with compassion and understanding.
Eulogy length. Are you the sole eulogy presenter or will others also be speaking? Answering this question can help determine the length of your eulogy. A good guideline: 2 – 5 minutes if you’re not the only speaker (enough time to state your connection to the deceased and tell 1- 3 anecdotes); and 7-10 minutes if you are the sole speaker. Reading the eulogy aloud while timing yourself can be helpful in knowing if editing is required.
It’s okay to use notes. Make it easy on yourself: write everything down and either read what you have written or refer to what you have written. This will help calm your nerves and keep you focused and on track.
Practice. Practice. Practice. Go over your speech several times prior to the day of the funeral and then again the morning of. This will give you more confidence when delivering your lines – and it will help you sound more natural.
When a difficult person or someone who has hurt you dies, it can be challenging to know how to approach writing and delivering a eulogy. You always have the option of opting out of being a presenter. If, however, you choose to say a few words, guidelines and eulogy examples can be found in the blog, Grieving the Death of Someone Who Hurt You.
This content is excerpted from How to Write - and Deliver - a Eulogy by Elizabeth Lewis. In her post, Elizabeth describes her process for giving the eulogy for her mother-in-law, using the principles outlined above.