Choosing a eulogy theme and style is an important part of developing a heartfelt and meaningful narrative.
There are many ways to go about it and we can help you get started. Keep in mind that the theme is simply an appropriate framework.
The most important thing is that the eulogy comes from the heart. That will ensure that it is the proper gift to the departed and the friends and loved ones gathered to say goodbye.
For overall organization and composition see …
Robert Ferguson’s Eulogy presented by Craig Ferguson
President Richard Nixon’s Eulogy presented by president Bill Clinton
Sir Edmund Hillary’s Eulogy presented by Helen Clark, New Zealand Prime Minister
The Eulogy Theme
While there are many ways to approach a eulogy, there are three main types of themes to consider: biographical, personal, and specialized.
- Biographical Themes: A biographical eulogy theme recounts the life history of the departed. If written well, this type of eulogy can be interesting and reveal something new to many people attending. It discusses the high points in the life of the deceased, details the accomplishments and awards that may have been received, and other things that may have impacted the lives of others. A tribute would fit into this category. Often, the obituaries in newspapers are written in this fashion.
- Personal Themes: A personal eulogy theme is based on the memories that people have of the person who died and includes memories you have, but also those of others. The legacy of the deceased is mentioned as well as how life has changed for those who are left behind. The children of the departed, projects that were completed and any charities that were impacted are a part of the legacy. This can be very touching and emotional for those present. A personal eulogy theme may be emotional for you, too. And it is okay to show some emotion. It’s understood by those in attendance, and no one will think it is inappropriate.
- Specialized Themes: A specialized theme usually relates something that was special to the departed, or something that everyone can relate to. Religious, light-hearted or even humorous eulogies would be examples of specialized themes. And yes, it is OK to use humor, known for a sense of humor or playing practical jokes. Many people prefer to build a eulogy around a special poem or song lyric. This would also be a specialized theme.
For the development of an overall eulogy theme see …
The Eulogy Style
The actual style of the eulogy will depend on you as a speaker as well as the type of person the deceased was. You have a great deal of flexibility here and can choose a style that is straightforward and serious, take a storytelling approach, or go for humor. The story you have to tell and your comfort as a speaker will both contribute to what is an appropriate style for a particular eulogy.
The Storytelling Eulogy
Expert storytellers will tell you that all good stories have a few things in common: A central premise, strong three-dimensional characters, a turning point, a protagonist, an antagonist, and conflict. Many successful eulogies use these same elements to take key points about a person’s life and weave them into a story. The important thing is to keep it honest. If you speak from the heart you can’t go wrong. Review the steps outlined in our H.A.M. method and create your story.
For telling a life story see …
The Light-hearted Eulogy
Even when the person you were eulogizing was not a particularly funny person, it can be ok to be light-hearted. Sharing happy memories of the deceased can be very uplifting and be entirely appropriate during a eulogy. Fond memories that bring smiles can relieve tension and be a welcomed reprieve from the great sadness of losing a loved one. That is not to say that you should go into a stand-up routine when giving a eulogy. But recalling funny stories and experiences that you shared with the deceased can be appropriate. It often triggers the memories of the guests and helps celebrate the life of the loved one with a smile.
Ways to incorporate light-hearted humor into a eulogy:
- Include humorous, but tasteful stories you or others have experienced with the deceased. Recalling costumes worn for Halloween or a practical joke that was played by the person being eulogized are examples of this kind of story.
- Discuss happy moments of the deceased’s life. Recalling the 50th Anniversary party or a memorable vacation illustrate this kind of moment.
- Describing the person’s certain way of talking or phrasing in a respectful way. Perhaps he or she had a folksy tone, or an excited manner when talking. A man mentioned once that when he recalled his father’s little sayings, it always brought a smile to his face.
- Revealing an inside joke you may have had with the deceased. This will give you an opportunity to relay a story and reveal the “punch line” to the guests. This can help family and friends feel closer to their loved one because they are let in on the inside. When one woman’s brother told her a story about her father, she said with a smile, “I have always wondered why he always said that!”