Being asked to write a eulogy for a loved one is a great honor. It is one last gift that you can give to the deceased and his or her loved ones. But unless you are an experienced public speaker and speechwriter, preparing and delivering the eulogy can be a daunting task. The process is further complicated by the fact that you are dealing with your own grief. It’s perfectly natural to be a bit anxious and nervous about the task ahead, but with a little preparation you can overcome the obstacles and write a eulogy that creates the perfect tribute.
Here you’ll find time-tested techniques that will help you get started.
- How to get started.
- How to choose a eulogy theme.
- What to include in the eulogy.
- Do’s and Don’ts.
- How to deliver the eulogy.
It is helpful to remember the reason for the eulogy. You are paying homage to the deceased, acknowledging the importance of a unique life, and capturing some of the memories left behind. If you prepare the eulogy with this in mind and you deliver it with honesty, love, and respect, you can’t go wrong.
What to Include in a Eulogy:
The most memorable eulogies paint a portrait of a complete life. To do justice to a long, full life in such a short time, be sure to include:
- Highlights: Major accomplishments and significant events.
- Attributes: What was the person like?
- Memories: Special moments that give insight and evoke emotion.
For more on how to do this, visit our Writing Eulogies: The H.A.M. Method page.
As you are preparing the eulogy, keep in mind that you are dealing with your own grief so the process may become emotional. If you need to, take a break to let yourself work through your feelings. You’ll be able to get back to it once you have caught your breath.
Write a Eulogy Step-by-Step:
- Talk It Over: Spend time with family and friends sharing stories, telling tales, and reflecting on the life of the deceased. Ask questions so that you get a full picture of the person’s life—from the happy, to the funny, to the unusual. Jot down key highlights that might give you inspiration as you begin to write.
- Make a List: Write down your impressions and stories that might work well for the occasion. Note what was important to the deceased. How did he or she like to spend time? Did he have hobbies? Did she have special interests? Was there music that was special, food, activities? Don’t leave anything out. Right now you are just trying to capture ideas, memories, and perspectives.
- Develop a Theme: Start thinking about how the anecdotes might fit together. Keep the personality of the deceased in mind. There are a variety of themes that may begin to surface. Often times, a eulogy will contain a blending of themes. For example, you might start out by reflecting on some of the serious passions that were important to the person you are eulogizing and then work in some humorous stories. Or you might choose to set the eulogy up by asking a question or telling one particular story that you think sums up the life of the person you are writing about. The overriding theme will tie your eulogy together. For more on choosing a theme visit our Choosing a Eulogy Theme and Style page.
- Create an Outline: Begin to organize your thoughts. Creating a written outline can be helpful in organizing what you will say. Popular ways to organize include chronological or reverse chronological, by topic (perhaps three or four important points), or by the overriding theme. For example, there may be a quote, scripture, poem, or song lyric that you feel sums up the person’s life.
- Start Writing: With your outline at the ready (or in your head) you are ready to start writing. The important thing is to get started. It doesn’t have to be perfect. You’ll refine and edit later. Try to keep it conversational by writing the way you would say it.
- Edit: Now that you have a completed draft read your work out loud. That will give you a feel for how the eulogy will flow and how it will sound when you deliver it. Add, delete, rearrange the wording as you go along.
- Get Feedback: Share an edited draft with others to get feedback and suggestions. Edit the eulogy to reflect the comments made by others.
- Practice: Even the most expert public speakers practice their speeches before they deliver them. Practice will give you the chance to make sure the eulogy is the right tone and length. Most are 10-15 minutes long. If you aren’t sure how long it should be, check with the person making the funeral arrangements.
DO’S AND DON’TS OF EULOGY WRITING
- Do discuss how the deceased affected your own life in a positive way, as well as how his death has affected you. Be honest about your feelings.
- Don’t use this as a chance to settle an old score. If you have a history with the deceased that you can’t get past, it’s better to ask someone else to write and deliver the eulogy.
- Do include one or two stories about the deceased. A funny story to start the eulogy will help people remember the happiness of the deceased’s life
- Don’t focus on how hard it will be to deliver the eulogy. Your audience will be sympathetic and understand if you become emotional. If there’s a chance it might be too much for you, have a back-up on hand to deliver the eulogy.
- Do view the eulogy as a personal conversation with friends and family. Your audience is eager to hear about the deceased and will welcome what you have to say.
- Don’t think the eulogy has to be perfect. If you speak from your heart and honor the deceased, the eulogy will be just fine.
- Do include other close friends and family in the process through brainstorming, sharing stories, helping set the tone, and to help refine and polish your final draft.
DELIVERING THE EULOGY
You’ve talked with family and friends, developed a theme, and done the work of preparing a eulogy. Now comes the most important part–delivering it. This is also the part that may weigh most heavily on your mind. Chances are you are not a polished public speaker, you are also working to manage your own grief over the loss of a loved one. Fortunately, there are things you can do to help make what’s up ahead easier.
- Practice, practice, practice: The more you practice delivering the eulogy the easier it will become. While you may not end up committing it to memory, your brain will know what’s coming. Use a mirror so you can see what the audience will see and practice in front of others. Practicing out loud will also help you fine tune some areas of the eulogy that may look good on paper but not flow easily when said.
- Relax: Of course, this is easier said than done but taking steps like familiarizing yourself with the room and podium, wearing comfortable but appropriate clothing, having water available, and taking deep breaths can help.
- Put yourself in the audience’s place: Remember, you will never have a more sympathetic audience. The delivery is your gift to them and they are grateful. They will appreciate your willingness to speak.
- Have a backup: If you aren’t sure how you are going to feel on the day of the funeral, ask a friend or family member to stand by in case you are unable to go through with the delivery. Just knowing you have a fallback can help ease your mind.
Handling Your Emotions When Delivering a Eulogy
The death of a loved one is a stressful and emotional time. Dealing with the loss under normal circumstances is difficult enough. However, adding the extra task of giving the eulogy is particularly challenging. Your audience will not be shocked if you get emotional. In fact, they will probably expect it. If you have a tough spot or two, just pause and take a do-over. All that matters is that you say what you need to say.
- The more you practice, the more comfortable you will feel with the words you are expressing. The repetition can help remove the emotion and make you more confident in delivering your message.
- If you are particularly concerned about maintaining your composure, consider avoiding eye contact with the audience. There will be guests that will react emotionally to parts of your message or just to the funeral itself. Emotion is contagious. Instead of looking the guests in the eyes, try to look just above the audience or just at the audience as a whole.
- Speak slowly. During your speech, there will be some parts that will evoke emotion more than others. If you are concentrating on the flow of your speech, you will not be thinking as much about the emotionally charged parts of your speech.
Dealing with emotions is normal when giving a eulogy. Do not let it scare you from the job. When the guests see you dealing with the same grief that they are, they will feel connected to you and the eulogy.
For more on Writing Eulogies