What is a eulogy? It’s a speech given at a funeral or memorial service to honor a person’s life and tell their story. Whether you are asked to or you freely choose to, writing a eulogy is one of the greatest honors you will ever receive. After all, you are summarizing your experiences with a certain person at a celebration of their life. Your words will stick with the fellow mourners for years to come.
I remember the passing of my father and how one of his co-workers reflected on the fact they were flying on 9/11 together. With the news of the terrorist attacks, their flight was canceled, and they rented a car to travel back from their business trip together. It’s been more than four years and I still remember that particular eulogy very vividly.But of course, whether you’re writing a eulogy for a friend or family member, it can put a lot of pressure on a person. You may fear not living up to expectations or doing a disservice to your loved one’s memory. Fear not, though. The key to writing a meaningful eulogy is to keep it honest, tactful, personal, and concise. And to thoroughly edit and practice before the actual memorial service.
Be honest. If you were asked to write a eulogy, you were asked for good reason. Either you had a special connection to your loved one or you have a way of words that others may lack. So draw on your own experiences here; don’t muddy the eulogy with blanket statements that could apply to nearly anyone. If you have significant memories that stick out, capitalize on those. If you happened to go on a memorable vacation with them or remember laughing over a holiday dinner with them, incorporate those stories into the eulogy speech. Your memories will be a wealth of material and are sure to remind close friends and family members in the audience of their own experiences as well.
As well as being honest in your writing, be honest in your delivery, too. If you feel like getting emotional while speaking, don’t hold yourself back. People will expect some degree of emotion at a funeral, and it’s okay to cry if you feel like you can’t avoid it.
Be tactful. Unfortunately, honesty can be a double-edged sword. Sensitivity and discernment in writing an eulogy are crucial. You don’t want to use this opportunity to bring up anything negative about the loved one. Don’t use it as a moment to air dirty laundry (“Remember that time Dad wouldn’t let me go to the concert and I ran away from home?” Save that anecdote for some other time). And if there is any content in your eulogy which may come off as offensive, scrap it. It’s not worth potentially alienating other people or triggering negative reactions in them. You don’t want people to walk away from the funeral service feeling worse.
Be personal. Remember that, although you are thrust into the spotlight, the eulogy speech is about your loved one and not so much you. Talk about the life of the deceased. Give factual details and also descriptions of their personality and outlook on life. Don’t be afraid to touch upon your shared grief with the audience as well – it’s no secret that everyone at the funeral will be mourning in some form or another. But also don’t be afraid to inspire, either. Try to picture it this way: Your loved one would probably want their funeral to be a positive experience and would take great pride in knowing the impact they had on people during their life.
Be concise. Don’t ramble in your memorial speech. This will be off-putting to your audience and result in an overall ineffective speech. Instead, keep your thoughts condensed and focused. It might help to actually outline the points you wish to capture before you do any extensive writing. Take the time to properly edit your work, too; you’ll be surprised by what you find after a few further reads. Anything that is not essential to the stories you are sharing should be cut. And if you can’t trust yourself to be truly objective, have a friend take a quick look at your eulogy writing for a more critical perspective.
There is no defined “word count” for an eulogy, but typically, delivery will span anywhere from 15 to 20 minutes. So it will help to run through it a few times to see where you clock in at. These are more arbitrary rules; if you feel like you can say what you need to say in a shorter span, that works, too. Sometimes a short but impactful eulogy can carry with it a special poignancy.
Delivering a eulogy is similar to any other form of public speaking, except a bit more meaningful than giving a speech at Toastmasters or a corporate presentation. Again, practicing beforehand will help guarantee a smoother presentation. Ensure you speak slowly and loudly, and enunciate your words. Bring a bottle of water with you if possible. And for practicing, you may want to enlist a small audience of two to three people to provide feedback.
Don’t let nerves get to you, either! Remember people are at the funeral service to commemorate the life of their loved one and that they want to hear what you have to say. With some practice and editing, you’ll be prepared to share your stories in the most fitting and touching way.
Only one part of a holistic tribute. There are other elements to account for when it comes to a funeral that are equally important. One of those elements is funeral cards and programs, which can contain portions of the eulogies as well. All of these elements – from eulogies to flower arrangements to programs – play an undeniably important role in commemorating the life of your loved one.